Creating the right sleep environment for your child to sleep in is all part of the puzzle that make for great sleep. And one main component is this puzzle is a hormone called melatonin.
In this blog I am going to explain what it is, where it comes from and how it helps in completing the sleep puzzle!
Melatonin…What is it?
It is a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland and secreted into the blood stream. It helps in the onset of sleep and regulating the circadian rhythm.
Where Does It Come From?
We are born with a small caseload that is passed on from our mothers. Around 8 weeks or so this maternal level has pretty much all gone and your baby will need to start producing their own. It is produced by the pineal gland, which if you remember back to biology class hangs of the bottom of the brain.
There is also a small amount of melatonin passed on via breast milk.
Melatonin can also be prescribed by a doctor. Some parents head to the doctors in a desperate hope they can get a prescription for melatonin to give to their child. And in some cases it is, but this is few and far between and also in very extreme cases. Often children who may be diagnosed with Epilepsy or Autism are prescribed melatonin.
How Does It Start Working It's Magic?
Melatonin is triggered by the dark, one of the reasons I also suggest to have a dark room for your child to sleep in. A dark room really will help settle your child especially if they are very over stimulated. Often when a baby wakes at the end of a sleep cycle, if the room is dark we have more chance they will go back to sleep because they cannot see anything therefore are not able to focus on anything in their view.
“But my child tells me he is scared of the dark” I hear you say, well this fear can be helped by giving them a night light in their room BUT only a red night light or at least a deep amber colour.
Have you seen The Hatch? You can set it to be red all night until it is time to wake up where you can set it go green (or pretty much any colour of the rainbow your child’s heart desires!)
Why do I suggest red?
Because this colour will not penetrate through the eye lids like blue light does, it will not supress the levels of melatonin in your child’s body and does not cause wake ups, like blue light…(blue light being a regular light bulb, screen light from TV, tablets. Phones even your wrist watch)
Some foods also contain melatonin, not a lot but a little tit bit here and there.
Foods such as Goji berries, walnuts, almonds, pineapple, bananas and oranges and turkey (maybe this is why we all feel so sleepy after eating our Christmas dinner!) all contain substantial amounts of melatonin. Perfect for a healthy, pre-bedtime snack!
The levels of melatonin rise through the day and peaks at bed time.
What Does Bath Time Have To Do With Melatonin?
Having a warm bath also signals the body to make a little extra boost of it, hence why I always suggest having a bath as part of the bedtime routine.
What Stops It? Try to avoid blue light expose at least 1.5-2 hours before bedtime. I am sure you have worked on your computer late at night and gone to bed and found you feel quite wired, one reason is due to the blue light exposure. Even scrolling through Facebook while lying in bed will suppress the melatonin. Natural light will stop the production and release of melatonin, so once again, having a dark room for your child to sleep in is an important piece of the sleep puzzle! An overtired baby will have a build-up of cortisol in the body, it is like an adrenalin in some ways and will suppress the melatonin. The body’s circadian rhythm, (internal body clock) as well as the dark will trigger the release of this melatonin, one of the reasons you feel tired when you stay up past your bedtime and you feel the need to fall asleep on the sofa in front of Netflix! If your child has erratic days the body will have trouble releasing this melatonin, even if it is dark. Out of sync naps means sleep pressure may be too high or too low. Having a consistent circadian rhythm will help with the release of melatonin and naps and night sleep. That means having a routine for your baby in place. You can help your baby get into a good daily routine by practising the following methods
• Have wake time each day that is the same or at least with in the same 30 minutes
• Be in tune with your child’s wake windows and nap lengths and wake if necessary from naps
• Ensure bedtime is consistent every night, calm and peaceful. (Struggling with bedtime battles? Have you got my free bedtime routine cards for your toddler?)
A deficiency / low amount of melatonin can also lead to insomnia and early morning waking’s. So there we have it, The magic of melatonin. Sleep training is not all about methods and crying....it goes way deeper than that and their are many pieces to the puzzle. Melatonin being one of them. I hope as ever you have found this information interesting and helpful. Please do share it with all your friends who you think may also be interested in learning more about the sleep puzzle! Peaceful nights to you all, Rachael, Your Paediatric Sleep Consultant x (Disclaimer, links in this blog are affiliate links. If you purchase through them I will earn a few pennies from the sale at no extra cost to you!)