“Something I explain to my parents, generally newborn parents who want to start sleep training before 4 months of age, is about their baby’s biological clock and circadian rhythms. You’ve all heard that from me right? ”Their biological clock hasn’t matured yet, therefore…” So I thought it would be a good idea if I explained this in more detail as it is such a huge component in your newborns sleep milestones not to mention in the fundamentals of healthy sleep. There is going to be some boring science talk below, sorry about that, but I think to fully understand what I mean when I speak about biological clocks and natural sleep rhythms, you should fully understand what the heck they are!
What some parents need to remember is the time when sleep occurs is just as, if not more important then for how long your child sleeps. Remember healthy sleep is the right amount of sleep, at the right time, for the right consolidated length. We must synch our sleep routine with our circadian rhythms. Our biological clocks or internal sleepy clocks as I sometimes call them, are genetically controlled. These clocks drive our circadian rhythms and create an internal timing mechanism for sleep.
Circadian..whaaa? Let’s talk a bit about what circadian rhythms are. Don’t let me lose you now. Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes and generally follow a 24-hour cycle.
While these rhythms are produced by natural factors in our bodies, they primarily are affected by the dark (night) and light (day) cues from the environment. Light being the main cue influencing circadian rhythms, which control or drive our internal clocks. Sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, body temperature and other important bodily functions can all be affected by circadian rhythms. Our sleep patterns and our childrens sleep patterns are determined by our circadian rhythms.
The biological clocks that control circadian rhythms are groupings of interacting molecules in cells throughout the body. The “master clock”, a group of nerve cells in the brain (with a big name but I’m not going to bore you with), is located in an area of the brain just above the optic nerves. The master clock coordinates all the body clocks so that they are in synch. It also controls the production of melatonin, a natural sleep hormone and because it’s located just above the optic nerve, which relays information from the eyes to the brain, when it’s night time and there is less light, the “master clock” tells the brain to make more melatonin so you get drowsy. Make sense? This is why a consistent bedtime routine is so important! Dimming the lights, darkening the room, will cue the brain, the “master clock”, to release the melatonin and make you drowsy.
Here is why educating parents on their child’s biological clock and natural sleep flows (rhythms) are important and one of the major components in my Sleep Plans. When your child sleeps in synch with their circadian rhythms they are able to get the most restorative, better quality sleep, than sleeping out of synch with circadian rhythms. Here is how I explain it to my parents. We should (though, who are we kidding, it never happens) be getting at least 8 hours of sleep per night. So that 8 hours is the “right amount of sleep and at the right consolidated length” part of healthy sleep. Now if we were to sleep from 3pm to 11pm at night, we’d be getting the right amount of sleep at the right consolidated length, right? But if we were up from 11pm to 3 in the afternoon the next day, I don’t know about you guys, but I would be a complete wreck! Why, because even though I’m getting that 8 hours, I”m not sleeping at the right time of day. My sleep isn’t synched with my natural sleep flow, or circadian rhythms. This is similar to when you’re experiencing jet-lag, or struggling with shift-work.
So if you pair, sleep synched with your childs natural sleep flow, and a continuous (consolidated) sleep not sleep that in interrupted (fragmented) sleep, your child will be getting the best restorative sleep possible. When I build a routine and schedule for my parents they are based on their childs natural sleep flow for their biological age.
Something that you will often hear me tell parents of newborns, any baby under 4 months of age, is that it’s difficult to start sleep training because at this point a newborn’s biological clock is immature. It takes time for a baby to develop his own natural circadian rhythm. You have to keep in mind he was just in your womb that stayed dark for 24/7. Sleep patterns develop with time, and as the baby get’s older their biological clock and nervous system matures, which makes getting them on a routine and learning to soothe themselves much easier. There are steps that you can take in the first few months that make setting your babies biological clock easier.
Letting sunlight into the room in the morning will help a baby learn to wake at the right time.
Dimming lights in the evening also helps.
Having a regular feeding and activity schedule makes setting a baby’s biological clock easier.
Parents who realize that this time in their lives is short, and who learn to let go of unrealistic expectations will be able to better enjoy their new baby.
The first component of healthy sleep is learning to respect your child’s circadian rhythms and in order to do this you need to determine where the child is biologically. As I mentioned your child needs to be biologically mature enough to start sleep training and generally up until 4 months of age he isn’t. I’ll explain the 4 month milestone in a future post. In order to properly determine where your child is biologically you would start your sleep time line at your baby’s estimated due date. That is when their biological age starts, even if they were born a few weeks to a month before their EDD. For example, if your baby was early by 1 month then you would start taking his age into account when starting sleep training, from his EDD. Instead of him being 2 months old, biologically he is 1 month old.
This is important because you need to be aware of when is the right time to start carving out a sleep routine. When a baby is first born it’s difficult to set your baby to a scheduled clock time because they haven’t established their circadian rhythms or internal biological clocks yet. This normally doesn’t start happening until 6-8 weeks of age, from their EDD, and really kicks it at around 4 months. So it is important to know when you should start seeing signs of their sleep rhythms and internal clocks kicking into gear. To see the original post click
Circadian Rhythms and the Tick-Tock of Your Baby’s Biological Clock – Alanna McGinn of goodnightsleepsite.com
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