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!