What are Circadian Rhythms and how do they affect baby sleep?

by | Jan 25, 2021 | Baby Sleep

Circadian Rhythms are 24-hour cycles that run in the background to help us to function and process. One of the most important and well-known circadian rhythms is the sleep-wake cycle. 

So, how does this affect our babies’ sleep? Well, newborn sleep isn’t governed by strong circadian rhythms. Although babies do have this internal clock, it doesn’t arrive pre-programmed! 

In the womb, babies are tuned in to their mum’s physiological clues about day and night – when a mum is active, baby’s heart and respiratory rates speed up. When mother is asleep, they slow down. 

So, when babies arrive, their internal clocks aren’t synchronized with the 24-hour cycle of day and night so it takes time to them to get in sync. 

circadian rhythm

When do babies develop mature circadian rhythms and how can parents help? 

Babies can take 12 weeks, or even longer to develop a mature circadian rhythm. Here are some tips for you to help your baby to become in sync with our natural 24-hour day:  

  1. Expose your newborn to natural lighting patterns – regularly androutinely turn lights out at the same time every night. One studyalso showed that babies who had been exposed to lots of early afternoon light tended to sleep for longer at night.  
  2. Include your baby inyour daily routine – include them in your daily activities as this will help them to adapt more rapidly.  
  3. Keep nighttime activity to a minimum – if baby wakes fornight feedings, make as little noise as possible and try not to move baby around too much. 
  4. Breast milk – if you pump, try keeping a record of what time of day you express. Breast milk contains tryptophan which is used by the body to create melatonin. Tryptophan levels rise and fall according to maternal circadian rhythms, and when babies consume tryptophan before bedtime, they are likely to fall asleep faster.
  5. Baby massage – studies have shown that massaging your newborns with lotion at bedtime can help them to sleep for longer. 

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