Regardless of my Cuban descent, I learned about circadian rhythms after my baby boy was born. I kept hearing these two words over and over again during gathering of friends and not necessarily in the same context as being on a beach and drinking a cocktail while listening to a bongo-band.
It seemed that my friends, all of those who had baby sleeping problems, meaning all of my friends who had babies, hold circadian rhythms to blame for their lack of sleep during their baby’s first months.
You see, circadian rhythms are biological cycles that repeat every 24-hour or so and control a variety of biological process such as sleep-wake cycles, body temperature, and hormone release. It is easier for us to fall asleep when our body temperature and levels of adrenal hormones are low and to wake up when these are high.
One of these hormones is melatonin, the one that makes us feel drowsy. Located just on top of our optic nerves, our body’s biological clock receives information about incoming light and sends it to our brains. When there is little light –at night, for example- our brains receive the order to produce more melatonin in order for us to feel drowsy and fall asleep.
Another interesting fact is that our body temperature, when we awake, starts rising. At the end of the day, when we fall asleep, it falls. This means that when our body temperature is high, our bodies are more awake.
The circadian rhythms of babies may take up to a year to be fully developed. At this time they wake up every 3 to 4 hours and have disrupted sleeping patterns. For 80% of all babies, it may begin to regulate by 4 months of age, when they start sleeping 8 to 12 hour stretches.
You can’t fight circadian rhythms. However, you can help your baby create healthy sleeping patterns by opening the blinds during the day and allowing the light to come in so her circadian rhythm may set early on. I also followed my doctor’s advice to maintain Noah’s room temperature between 65 and 70F, the optimal range for him to balance his body temperature and fall asleep easier. When we did this, Noah began skipping his 4-5am feeding! While helping your baby create healthy sleeping habits, try not to encourage bad habits such as holding him while falling asleep. It will be another habit to crack later on.
Do you know of any other way we could help our babies create healthy sleeping habits? I would love to hear them!
Day Three of Ferberizing our child: Hell on Earth.
What can I say besides that at that moment I thought Noah hated me for leaving him alone in his crib every time he had to nap, he hated napping, his room and our whole house. I had to take him out of his crib on two consecutive naps after one hour of crying because he still did not want to fall asleep on his own.
I began feeling like a failure. Then I thought the “Cry it out” method was a fiasco and juggled the idea of putting an end to all this madness. A firm believer of the benefits of sleeping, I even felt it was too much crying, for both of us, and that he would learn to sleep eventually. However, I only had to remember his tiredness and the importance of naps to calm myself down.
Did you know that a NASA study found that naps gave military pilots and astronauts a boost in mental keenness; improved working memory, performance and sharpness. Not enough?
Naps help babies recover from a bad night’s sleep.
Naps increase learning capacity. A tired baby looses concentration. A well-rested child uses his time awake to learn.
A nap improves brain development. When babies sleep, their little brains convert new information into memories, thus leaving more space for more learning. Because babies are able to absorb more information, naps also increase their attention span.
Naps also provide the time for their bodies to release growth hormones and repair bones, tissues and muscles.
Naps turn that little monster throwing tantrums back into your adorable sweet angel. This is because when babies nap, they release cortisol, a stress marker, avoiding a build up of uncontrollable levels of unpleasant behavior. A rested baby is a happy baby, and behind every happy baby, there is a happier mom.