Kids MD - Sunlight and Sleep

Marc Straus | CWK Network

"The study…does back up what parents have known instinctively for many years, that being in daylight during the day helps our bodies to stay awake."
-Dr. Karen Dewling, pediatrician-

Ashley and her sister Natalie are out for a walk with their mom on a bright, sunny day. But will the walk help them sleep tonight?

Their mom, Amy Ellison, seems to think so. "If we do go for a walk that day, Natalie, the oldest, seems to go to sleep faster or is pretty much asleep on my shoulder as I take her to bed at night. Now the youngest, Ashley, she is sleeping through the night now."

In fact, a researcher in Britain found 6- to 12-week-old babies who get sunlight between noon and 4 p.m. sleep longer and wake fewer times through the night. It has to do with the body's production of melatonin. Dr. Karen Dewling, a pediatrician, explains: "Melatonin is one of the substances that's produced in the brain that helps to trigger sleep. Melatonin was suppressed during the day and then was able to secrete (more frequently) at night, in the dark."

That explanation makes sense to Ellison . "I think that's part of them figuring out daytime. Maybe that helps them stay awake during the day, if that's suppressing that in their system, to help them stay more awake during the daylight hours."

"The study is really neat," says Dr. Dewling, "in that it does back up what parents have known instinctively for many years, that being in daylight during the day helps our bodies to stay awake. And being in a dark, quiet, comfortable place at night promotes good sleep."

Dr. Dewling says to help your child sleep, another good idea is to establish a routine at bedtime. "Such as: having a bedtime snack, brushing teeth, story, song, lights out … something along those lines. Not too complicated, but something that gives the child time to leave the business of the day and signal to their body that it's time to settle down and go to sleep."

Ellison says if the sun is shining, walks will be a regular part of her kids' daily routine. "As a mother trying to get your children to sleep, you want to try pretty much anything to get those sleeping hours in, so I would definitely think it would be a good thing to try."

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