News & Events

I Just Want My Child to Fall Asleep Earlier!

August 19, 2020 9:47 am

One very common issue, particularly right now, is many people have allowed their bedtime and wake time to slide later. One frequently used coping strategy after school/work schedules resume is having big swings between your weekend and weekday sleep schedule. Let’s talk about why this happens and what you can do to fix it.

Our internal body clock is unique to everyone but generally for most people is set at slightly longer than 24 hours (24.2 hours on average). Our daily activities of being active, exposed to light, and eating are some of the most important factors in setting your body clock and keeping it on a 24-hour cycle.

six years old child sleeping in bed with alarm clock

As part of our circadian rhythm melatonin is produced. Dim light melatonin onset (DLMO) marks the start of the sleep period. The timing of DLMO determines if your schedule is normal, delayed, or advanced. Advancing DLMO is what allows you to fall asleep faster but also to wake up sooner. If you take over the counter melatonin at the wrong time or at too high of a dose, then DLMO can be affected. Taking over the counter melatonin within two hours of sleep will not help advance your sleep schedule.

Manipulating light and melatonin production may not be effective at moving up your sleep schedule if you are doing other things to counteract their effects. These basic principles are a good starting point for anyone trying to improve sleep quality for their child or themselves.

  1. Starting two hours before bed exposure to light should be dim. This permits the secretion of melatonin. Particularly exposure to blue light from TV’s, computers, tablets, LED lights, and phones should be minimized as it has the strongest effects to suppress melatonin. The impaired melatonin secretion can also impair the quality of your sleep.
  2. Establish a consistent bedtime, even during weekends. When your sleep schedule shifts back by 3 or more hours on the weekends you will likely have social jet lag on Monday. For children that struggle with delayed sleep phase it may be important to keep the wake time consistent also.
  3. Napping habits should be age appropriate but generally earlier in the day or not at all if you have problems falling asleep at night.
  4. Pre-bedtime rituals should also be consistent. An enjoyable sequence prior to bed prepares the child for bedtime. This may include a set time for bathing, changing into pajamas, reading, or quiet games.
  5. Avoid caffeine. If caffeine is consumed it must be in the morning hours, but this is not generally recommended for children or adolescents.
  6. The bedroom environment should be quiet, comfortable, completely dark, and the temperature should be cool. Electronics are not recommended in the bedroom.
  7. Regular daytime meals and daylight exposure in the morning help keep the body clock on track.

If your child is still struggling after trying some of these strategies, then please reach out to us for further assistance. We can help to evaluate for medical causes of sleep problems, vitamin/mineral deficiencies, or other causes of poor-quality sleep. There are many other important factors in promoting quality sleep to discuss and we can help develop an individualized plan for you.

– Dr. Melody Hawkins

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