Parents are more likely to get a good night’s sleep if they take their babies out in the early afternoon, according to a study in December’s Journal of Sleep Research.
Yvonne Harrison, from the School of Psychology at Liverpool John Moores University, found that babies who sleep well at night are exposed to twice as much light between 12 noon and 4pm than poor sleepers. 56 healthy, full-term babies were monitored for three consecutive days at six, nine and twelve weeks’ old. Parents were supplied with an environmental light monitor attached to a small teddy bear with Velcro fastenings, so that it could be attached to a pram handle or cot or placed near the baby.
They also used a tried and tested baby diary, which recorded activity such as sleep and crying.
“The environmental light monitor measured the normal levels of light that babies were exposed to in an average day” says Dr Harrison. “Parents were asked to continue their usual routines on the days monitored and the light readings were then analysed together with the diaries.
“One possible explanation for the link between light exposure and sleep is that higher light levels encourage the early development of the biological clock, which regulates a number of bodily functions, including the secretion of melatonin, an important factor in well-balanced sleeping patterns.”
The findings have been welcomed by UK TV presenter and sports commentator Annabel Croft, a Patron of the SPARKS charity, which provided financial support for the research.
"This is an extremely valuable piece of research. In many ways it underscores something that lots of mums have always suspected. But it is always good to have scientific support for those maternal instincts” says the former British number one tennis player, who has three children Amber (ten), Charlie (eight) and Lily (six).
"I certainly remember that my own babies always seemed to sleep better at night when I'd been able to wheel them off to the park on a nice, bright day.
"Sleep deprivation is a very big issue for many mums. You can become exhausted and depressed through lack of sleep yourself and then quite obsessive about how to try and make sure your baby sleeps better through the night. This can be totally debilitating and a very real health issue for some mothers.
"I'd say it's one of the main talking points when groups of mothers of young babies get together and chat about the ups and downs of caring for your child. Hopefully, this SPARKS funded research project and its findings will help spare more mothers and their babies the very real nightmare of sleep deprivation.”
Dr Harrison’s research also discovered that babies cried twice as much at six weeks than twelve weeks, falling from an average of 40 minutes per day to 20. And a baby who slept well at six weeks was likely to be a good sleeper at nine and 12 weeks. Parents who took part in the research were recruited in a number of ways. These included local press advertising and a presentation at The Baby Show Exhibition at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre. Babies were only included in the study if they were full-term, healthy and free from medication.
“Sleep deprivation is a big problem for many new parents” concludes Dr Harrison. “This research puts forward one theory that may help babies and parents get a good night’s sleep, which is good news for everyone!”