Optimizing Your Child’s Circadian Rhythm
Updated: Jul 11
As the weather cools down in our farewell to summer, it’s such a nice time of year to get outside with your little ones.
And truly, what better way to get your child’s sleep back on track than to utilize the sun and being outdoors!
If you’re like many parents, the summer months may have been a time where you relaxed some of the daily routines. Maybe you traveled to visit family or let the kids stay up later than usual, and, as a result, their sleep went a little haywire.
We’re all for making memories, so there’s never any judgment here! But as school and daycare gear back up, you may be ready to refocus on sleep and get back to your regularly scheduled programming.
But sometimes, that’s easier said than done.
If your child didn’t have a consistent schedule during the summer months, or if their sleep took a back seat, you may find it a bit challenging to simply go back to your old schedule.
But it’s not impossible. When you’re working to adjust your child’s biological clock and get them back on track, we suggest focusing on optimizing your child’s circadian rhythm to help them get the most restorative sleep possible.
The Circadian Rhythm: Why it Matters
Our circadian rhythm plays a huge role in our sleep. Sometimes referred to as our biological clock, the circadian rhythm is roughly a 24-hour cycle that drives our sleep and wakefulness periods.
And it’s largely influenced by light.
When light travels through our optic nerve to a group of cells in our brain that control hormones and other functions, a hormone called cortisol is released, which helps us feel awake.
When there is an absence of light, these cells release melatonin, a hormone that makes us feel sleepy.
In other words, light makes us feel awake, and darkness makes us feel more tired.
Aside from the release of hormones which greatly impact our sleepiness, a child’s circadian rhythm is wired to get their best sleep between 6-8 p.m. and 6-8 a.m. When sleep occurs outside of your child’s natural rhythm, their body isn’t able to get the most restorative sleep, despite how many hours of sleep they clock in each night.
And when children aren’t sleeping the most efficiently, it can lead to daytime sleepiness – not something we want when we send our little ones back to school!
How the Sun Impacts Sleep
So how does getting outside in the sun help your child sleep better?
We’re so glad you asked!
We often recommend getting outside in the early morning as much as possible, because exposing our bodies to sunlight early in the day is beneficial for sleep later in the day.
When you expose your eyes to sunlight in the morning, it sends a signal to your brain to suppress melatonin production and increase cortisol production.
But wait…isn’t cortisol a stress hormone? Is that bad for my child?
While too high of cortisol levels can be dangerous in the long term, we actually need cortisol to function day-to-day. Cortisol energizes your body and prepares you for the day. And since we’re not exposing our children to stressful situations to get the cortisol flowing but instead the sun, it can help regulate their wake-sleep cycles.
The other hormone that sunlight affects is serotonin – also known as the “happy hormone” for its ability to lift mood. And since serotonin is a precursor to melatonin, it can help regulate your child’s circadian rhythm.
To put it simply, the sun can impact your child’s melatonin production, which can determine when they sleep and how well they sleep.
Other Ways to Naturally Increase Your Child’s Melatonin
Aside from spending some time outdoors to help regulate your child’s melatonin production, here are a few other ways to naturally increase melatonin levels.
Opt for Salt Lamps Overnight
We shared how darkness communicates to your child's body that it’s time for sleep, so we suggest the sleep environment be as dark as possible. If it’s necessary to use a nightlight in your child’s room, avoid cool blue-toned lights, as they can disrupt melatonin production during the night. Instead, use warm amber/orange/red lights or a salt lamp, as they won’t interfere with your child’s sleep.
Use Blue-Light Blockers
We always recommend not exposing your child to TV or other screen devices for a full two hours before bedtime, as blue light emitted from the screens can suppress melatonin. Using blue-light blockers that you can put on tablets and other handheld devices can help ensure your child’s melatonin levels aren’t disturbed.
Give Your Little One Tart Cherry Juice
Yes, you read that right. In a study published by the European Journal of Nutrition, it was found that tart cherry juice had phytochemicals, including melatonin. In the study, cherry juice was found to increase melatonin levels and the total sleep time for participants.
Making changes to your child’s sleep habits can seem intimidating, but truly, getting outside to spend time in the sun can have a powerful impact on your little one’s sleep.
If learning evidenced-based sleep facts like the circadian rhythm and the hormones that influence sleep interest you, we invite you to join our Sleep Consultant Academy!
This self-paced program is built on evidence-based methods and designed to ensure you graduate ready to hit the ground running and work with paying clients (without all the overwhelm and confusion that typically comes along with building a business!). What are you waiting for? Join today!