We have all heard the stereotypes and the jokes about babies not sleeping very well for their first few months and how that basically means that the parents don’t sleep for that time period as well. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why babies don’t sleep for long periods of time after they are born? Or, more specifically, why they seem to have no awareness of or adherence to our natural night time cycle of getting tired at night and getting more awake during the day?
Well, that is due in part to the fact that unlike adults, newborns cannot physically produce melatonin in their bodies. Melatonin is a special hormone that our brains produce and release into our bloodstream at night that helps us feel tired and want to start the process of going to sleep. Without that hormone, it is very difficult to fall asleep or to even feel tired at night, which is why babies seem to be just as active in their sleep/wake/feed patterns at 2am as they are at 2pm.
In today’s article, we’re going to explore a little more about this magical sleep hormone and how you can take steps as a parent to encourage your infant to get into a proper circadian rhythm that will help them be able to sleep longer and more soundly during the night time.
How Can Babies/Infants Safely Get Melatonin?
Even though they can’t produce it yet themselves, they do still benefit from receiving small amounts of melatonin naturally in a few key ways. During the first three or four months of life after birth, babies can’t produce their own melatonin, so they tend to get it from their mother’s breast milk, which contains trace amounts of the hormone. Other than that, babies should not be given melatonin in any other form unless under strict guidance from your child’s physician! This also goes for older babies and toddlers. There are other ways that are much more appropriate to improve sleep for your child.
How To Help Set Your Child’s Circadian Rhythm
It is really important to help set the circadian rhythm early on (which is why establishing a routine, regular feeds and not allowing the baby to reverse cycle are so important) because this will in turn really help the baby to start regulating and producing melatonin. Setting your child’s circadian rhythm can be tricky, but here are some quick tips to get it going:
- Make sure that naps both during the day and night time are in a darkened and quiet area.
- Limit light exposure prior to naps, especially at night time.
- Limit screen exposure at night time.
- During the morning, if it is safe and weather permits, take your child outside and expose them to some sunlight (direct or indirect is fine).
- Expose baby to sunlight briefly during each wake period as well, between naps.
- If you have to change or feed your baby during the night time, limit the number and intensity of lights you turn on while doing so. Try to keep a small flashlight with you or set up small table lamps that you can turn on briefly in order to get you the minimum amount of light you will need to complete your task and then turn it off. Try to avoid turning on harsh fluorescent lights during the night around your baby as that can trigger an awake response and throw off their circadian rhythm.
Before You Go
We hope you enjoyed learning about melatonin and its effects on the health of newborn babies. If you would like to know more about this, our sleep programs or any of our excellent newborn care services, we are happy to help. Just contact us and we can go over your options and help you find the best path for your little one. We hope these tips have helped you along your journey. If you have any questions about helping your baby to sleep better, or about your baby in general, please reach out to us HERE. We are experts in all things baby and sleep and would love to help!
If you have questions about your child, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We would love to help. Please reach out to us here! We always look forward to hearing from you.