Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 31st 2013 Contents WASHINGTON---When youngsters continually
struggle to fall asleep at night, new research suggests
maybe their body clock doesn t match their bed-
That doesn t mean tots should be up at all hours.
"Just like nutrition and exercise, sleep is critical
for good health," said sleep scientist Monique LeBour-
geois of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who is
leading the research.
The ultimate goal is to help reset a delayed sleep
clock so that young children can settle down more
easily, she said. Hint: It seems to have a lot to do
We all have what s called a circadian rhythm, a
master biological clock, that regulates when we
become sleepy, and when we re more alert. Those
patterns vary with age: It s the reason teenagers are
notorious for late nights and difficult-to-wake morn-
But how does that clock work in preschoolers, who
need more sleep than older children or adults? A
first-of-its-kind study tracked 14 healthy youngsters
for six days to begin finding out.
The children, ages two and a half to three, wore
activity monitors on their wrists to detect when they
slept. Parents kept diaries about bedtime routines.
Then on the last afternoon, researchers visited
each home, dimming lights and covering windows.
Then every 30 minutes for six hours leading up to
the child s appointed bedtime, they also coaxed each
tot to chew on some dental cotton to provide a sample
The reason: To test for levels of a hormone named
melatonin that is key to the sleep cycle and also sen-
sitive to light. At some point every evening, people s
melatonin levels surge and a while later, they begin
to feel sleepy. Among adults who sleep well, that
melatonin rise tends to happen about two hours
before whatever is their chosen bedtime.
For preschoolers, the new study found that on
average, the melatonin surge occurred around 7.40
pm. The children tended to be tucked in around 8.10
pm, and most were asleep 30 minutes later, LeBour-
geois reported in the journal Mind, Brain and Edu-
When melatonin rose earlier in the evening, tots
who hit the sack around 8 fell asleep a bit faster. But
when the melatonin surge was closer to bedtime, the
youngsters were more likely to fuss or make curtain
calls after lights-out.
Two children in the study actually were tucked in
before their rise in melatonin ever occurred, and it
took them up to an hour past bedtime to fall asleep,
"We don t know what that sweet spot is yet,"
LeBourgeois said, but the data suggest bedtime is
easiest if the melatonin surge occurred at least 30
The study reinforces what doctors have long sus-
pected is one bedtime barrier, said Dr. Jyoti Krishna,
a pediatric sleep expert at the Cleveland Clinic. Other
factors can disrupt a child s sleep, too, such as noise,
stress or anxiety, or disrupted home routines, he cau-
The National Institutes of Health says preschoolers
need 11 to 12 hours of sleep each day; some typically
comes from an afternoon nap.
Parents don t have melatonin tests as a guide, so
Krishna advises looking for cues when setting a bed-
time --- yawning, rubbing eyes --- and then to adjust
that bedtime as the child gets older.
About 25 per cent of young children experience
some type of sleep difficulty, including trouble settling
down at bedtime, LeBourgeois said. Harried parents
aside, there s concern that early-in-life bedtime frus-
tration might lead to more persistent sleep trouble.
Some steps that might help:
---Research shows that in adults, too much light in
the evening delays the melatonin surge and
subsequent sleepiness. While there's no data in young
children yet, LeBourgeois says dimming the lights
about an hour before bedtime makes sense.
---Avoid electronics near bedtime, because they
generate a specific type of light that triggers
wakefulness. LeBourgeois was horrified to hear one
parent offer a sleepless youngster an iPad to play with
as long as the child stayed in the bedroom.
---And make sure blackout shades aren't keeping
your children from getting enough morning sunlight,
she said. Light in the morning also is key to keeping
the biological sleep clock on schedule. (AP)
Tuesday, December 31, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
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"Changing the way we interact with people!"
Research on why tots fight sleep
Body clock may be behind time
University of Colorado, Boulder, student Karlie Johansen collects a saliva sample
from three-year-old Anders Todd as part of a study of sleep patterns in young
children last week. AP PHOTO
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