How Getting Outside Can Help with Sleep
Did you know that exposure to sunlight can help your child sleep better? It’s true! Sunlight is one of the best natural ways to help the body’s natural rhythms. I love using sunlight as a tool for parents to get sleep rhythms back on track! Let’s look at why and how you can start working in some outside time with your kiddos.
The two hormones that control our sleep wake rhythm are Melatonin and Cortisol. Melatonin is known as the sleep hormone. It peaks in the evening to make us feel sleepy at bedtime and stay asleep through the night. Cortisol is the wake hormone. It peaks in the morning around 4:00am to help us kick start our day and dips in the evening as Melatonin rises.
Why do these two hormones matter?
The timing of the release of melatonin and cortisol is largely affected by our body’s exposure to sunlight. In the mornings when our body is exposed to light our brain is told to begin producing cortisol to wake up. In the evenings, the sun is setting and less light exposure triggers to brain to begin producing melatonin and prepare the body for a night of sleep.
How can we apply this to your child?
If you are struggling with your child falling asleep at bedtime or maybe they’re waking too early in the morning, exposure to sunlight can help get their internal clocks back on track! This is especially helpful now as school is starting and is a great, natural way to help regulate their sleep rhythms.
Here's what you can do:
1) Get outside in the morning. When your child wakes in the morning, turn on lights and open the blinds. Let all the light in! We want to send the signal to their brain it is time to pump up the cortisol. It can also help to get outside after breakfast (or maybe while you’re making breakfast). Even just 15 minutes of outside time can make a difference.
2) Get outside in the evening. Melatonin (the sleepy hormone) peaks in the evening. Getting outside right before bedtime will signal to the body to produce melatonin, which will help your child relax and fall asleep more easily at bedtime. I know a lot of you are busy Mama’s and this is a lot easier said than done. That’s okay! Once or twice a week, try out one of these:
Eat dinner outside one evening a week
Enjoy an afternoon snack or post-dinner dessert outside
Go on a 10-15 minute family walk
Encourage play in your backyard while you make dinner
Enjoy a family game outside after dinner – maybe a game of tag or a board game on the porch
It’s important to remember that this is not a one and done deal. You cannot expect a magical result after doing this for one day. Consistency is key here. Maybe it’s not realistic to do this every day and that’s okay! Try shooting for 2-3 times a week or focus on more outside time on the weekends. No pressure – just have fun!
Trying to get your child on a more consistent schedule, but not really sure where to start? I can help! Schedules are just one piece of the sleep puzzle. I look at all aspects of sleep to get to the root of your sleep struggles and get your family's sleep back on track!