ADHD & sleep
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Mandy Gurney
Former Director of the Sleep Clinic at the NHS St Charles hospital in London and Director of Millpond Sleep clinic. She also works as an NHS Sleep educator to health professionals across the UK.
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Child sleep

Seven top tips to stop your child from waking up so early

Through the night when your child is asleep, her melatonin (the sleep hormone) levels reduce, and her cortisol (the stress hormone) levels rise. When the levels of these two hormones cross over – your child will begin to wake up. If the cortisol levels are very high, or the melatonin levels are low (or a combination of both) when she goes to bed, she will wake up very early. The video here focuses on baby sleep, but the theory is exactly the same for older children.
Video Tutorial
In Short
If you want your child (or you) to sleep longer in the morning – you need to reduce cortisol levels and raise the melatonin levels at bedtime.

Then these levels will take longer to cross over during the night – and your child will wake later.

There are all sorts of things you can do to achieve the right levels of hormones at bedtime.

7 top tips to help your child (or you) sleep longer through the night

The key is to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) before bedtime and to increase melatonin (the sleep hormone) before bedtime:

Tip 1

No TV, computer or anything with a bright (blue light) screen for at least an hour before bedtime. Screen light mimics daylight – so keeps the stress hormone going – and prevents the release of the sleep hormone. Getting rid of this screen light, therefore reduces cortisol and allows melatonin to be released.

Tip 2

If your child is waking too early, don’t put her to bed later – try putting her to bed earlier, which will again help to lower the levels of her stress hormone, cortisol.

Tip 3

Try to reduce your child’s stress levels before bed – everything needs to be calm & quiet.

Tip 4

No long hot bath before bed – just a quick warm bath to elevate their temperature. You want to lower your child’s body temperature before she goes to sleep.

Keep her room cool at night, 18 degrees celsius max. This replicates our naturally evolved state of living outside in caves – ie it gets colder as night approaches. This triggers the natural release of melatonin.

Tip 5

Darken the lights an hour before she goes to bed. Her body will get the cue (again like in cave-man times) that night-time is approaching and it will soon be time to sleep. Melatonin will be released. Heavy curtains or drapes can stop very early dawn times in summer from stimulating cortisol production and wakefulness in the very early morning (this can be a problem in countries at a high latitude such as Scandinavian countries, Northern Canada and the UK.

Tip 6

Darkness and sunlight are critical to our sleep and wake rhythm as it stimulates the production and suppression of melatonin. So it’s really important to make sure your child gets outside during the day – especially in the afternoon. The light entering her eyes will help to reset and maintain her body clock with a clear rhythm of night and day.

Tip 7

Make sure your child isn’t hungry. So try giving her a bigger dinner and see if that helps her through. You can also offer foods rich in tryptophan for supper (which is the amino acid that melatonin is made from) such as turkey and porridge.

All of these tricks help increase melatonin and reduce cortisol before going to sleep. This means the levels of these hormones will take longer to cross over. Therefore the time for waking will be delayed.

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.