How quiet and peaceful is your sleep? Do you manage to get quality rest during the night time? If you are a mother of a child with autism, then it is very likely that your answer to these questions will be negative! 80% of children with ASD have sleep problems and this, of course, effects the whole family and especially the mothers. These sleepless, restless nights when your child can not sleep for a long time or when even during sleep he is constantly moving and kicking, can easily drive you crazy. Have you been through this type of frustration? You are tired, you hide your head under the pillow, you try to use head phones, but nothing helps! And proper rest when your child has finally stopped wondering around or persistently tossing and turning and has fallen asleep, is but a dream. THIS EXHAUSTION DUE TO LACK OF SLEEP IS NOT HEALTHY FOR ANYONE. Night rest is a very special period of time when our body is not just resting, but also detoxifying, restoring and healing itself. If you start to abuse this pattern of rest, so vital to our health, very quickly you will generate misbalance in your body, which may then result in any number of chronic health conditions. But how can you help your child to overcome these sleep disturbances? If you are searching for such a solution then this article is for you!
Our body is designed to function according to a “day-night” cycle. Our internal biological clock, which is called our circadian rhythm, dictates such behaviour through the coordination of our hormones and neurotransmitters! This internal clock controls everything in our body including digestion, our immune system, blood pressure, fat utilisation, mental activity and much more! Even the best time for a visit to your dentist can be identified with its help! Which, as it happens, is when your stress hormones are not at their peek performance, either early in the morning or late in the afternoon! The main players in our biological clock are serotonin – the “happy” hormone, melatonin – the “get ready to sleep” hormone and cortisol – the main “stress” hormone. All of them have a certain pattern of secretion and activity that takes 24 hours to complete itself.
Interestingly, approximately 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut and, therefore, directly depends on what we eat and how healthy our digestive system is. It also depends on our activity level and how much real sunlight we are exposed to during the day. Remarkably, serotonin can be transformed into melatonin. Therefore, the more serotonin our body produces during the day, than more melatonin will be available to signal “bed time” to our body in the evening. Melatonin is also produced in the brain and other tissues in the body. Nevertheless, the production and secretion of it is heavily affected by exposure to real daylight, which, through our circadian clock, controls the high level of melatonin we have during evening and night and the low level during the morning and day. And now for cortisol! This hormone is generally known as a “bad” guy that causes many health problems related to stress. However, cortisol is a very important hormone that helps us to be alert and more focused, it controls our energy level and ability to perform. Only when we abuse our life style does it lead to either over-production or under-production of cortisol, which can then cause serious health issues. In fact, cortisol’s cycle actually has an opposite pattern to melatonin. When cortisol peeks during the day, melatonin drops and vice versa. THEREFORE, QUALITY OF SLEEP GENERALLY DEPENDS ON HOW WELL OUR HORMONES ARE BALANCED AND HOW WELL THEY CYCLE THROUGHOUT DAY AND NIGHT TIME! Hormones and neurotransmitters are mainly produced in the brain and in the gut. This connection between our brain and “second brain” is essential for healthy communication between all systems in the body and is based on the balanced biochemical interaction between different cells and organs.
However, we know that, due to many factors, children with autism have lots of different issues and complications on a biochemical level. Their body is simply dysregulated, confused and overstressed with a lack of communication between the brain and the rest of the body as well as between different hormones that are not following the natural pattern of activity. Research clearly shows that children with ASD have a significantly higher level of cortisol than other children (Susan K., 2015). At the same time, their melatonin level is significantly lower and the cycle rhythm of this hormone is disturbed (Rossignol DA and Frye RE, 2011).
Unfortunately, treatment with melatonin is not a long-term solution and can only be helpful for a certain period. Long-term use of melatonin can cause even further confusion in the brain and the body will produce even less of this vital molecule. WE SHOULD HELP OUR CHILDREN TO NORMALISE THEIR HORMONE LEVELS NATURALLY BECAUSE THIS IS THE ONLY SUSTAINABLE WAY OF DOING IT!
Here are three simple tips on how to normalise hormone levels:
- Maximise your child’s exposure to real sunlight as much as possible! It is 100 times more powerful than any indoor light. Please note that sunglasses and sun blocking creams prevent the skin from absorbing UV light and, therefore, from producing serotonin and vitamin D.
- Do not allow your child to use any electronic equipment at least 2-3 hours before bedtime! The artificial light from the electronic screens resets the natural circadian rhythm of our hormones, thus allowing cortisol to be produced for a longer period of time while suppressing our production of melatonin. For the same reason, make sure there is no blue light turned on in the bedroom during the night. This is because our skin has lots of photoreceptors that are particularly susceptible to blue light.
- Diet is a crucial point in resetting your child’s biochemical balance! Despite any possible picky eating habits, please, make sure that your child receives a good quality, as diverse as possible, range of food. The right nutritional support is vital for a healthy gut and healthy brain, for providing essential materials for all the biochemical reactions and neuronal signalling in the body, for detoxification and hormonal balance. Through dietary intervention we can treat dysbiosis, which causes an imbalance in hormones and micronutrient absorption in the gut. Furthermore, by consuming certain foods we can naturally increase our levels of melatonin. For example, foods like pineapples, bananas, oranges, oats, tomatoes and rice can naturally boost melatonin production.
These three tips will definitely help you to improve your child’s sleep pattern and, therefore, your own! Yes, you will need to go out of your comfort zone and invest some of your already limited time into incorporating these tips into your family life! Yes, I know it is not as easy as it sounds! BUT I ALSO KNOW THAT IT IS SO WORTH YOUR CHILD’S, AND YOUR OWN, HEALTH! So please, try to put your priorities right! Help your child to sleep better, improve his daily performance and maximise his potential in life!
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