Node Smith, ND
Cleaning up Nighttime Sleep Routines
You may have heard that if you’re having trouble sleeping you shouldn’t look at a digital screen for at least an hour before bed. This is a common naturopathic recommendation, and simply one of a handful of recommendations for “sleep hygiene.” Sleep hygiene is how we “clean” up our nighttime and sleep routine, to make it more conducive for rest, relaxation and sleep. The reason why digital devices are a consideration in this, is that the backlit LED screen is thought to activate the pineal gland to decrease melatonin, which increases wakefulness.
Sleep Research Reflects Poorly for Children Who Stay up Late Playing on Phones
According to a recent research study by Penn State, children who stay up late playing on their phones tend to sleep less, have poorer sleep quality, and more fatigue in the morning. These children were also more likely to be overweight. The study hypothesizes that technology use at night could help set the stage for a cycle which promotes weight gain and lower health vitality.
Even though by the fifth grade, over 40 percent of children have cell phones, it is not known how this technology is affecting their health. But we do know that sleep health is extremely important for the growing brain, and that it is likely that nighttime digital screen time does affect sleep.
Here is a brief overview of the top 5 considerations for your child’s (and your) sleep hygiene:
#1 – Avoid Caffeine and other Stimulants
Caffeine (in coffee, tea, soft drinks, chocolate, and sports drinks) as well as nicotine, and alcohol all have a stimulating effect and are often the culprit of sleeplessness. In the case of alcohol – many people believe alcohol helps sleep – it may help you fall asleep, but often after a few hours it will wake you up, which is due to the stimulating effect alcohol has once its been in the body a length of time. Try to keep these substances to the beginning of the day, or 4-6 hours before bed.
#2 – Bedroom as a Sleep Sanctuary
For many children it may be unrealistic for the bedroom to be used just for sleeping, however, if sleep is a problem, making the bed a place of sleep could help. When the bed(room) is used as a study place, meeting place, work area, etc. it stops being associated by the mind as a place of sleep. This can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Also, the room should be dark, light triggers the brain to wake up. And optimally, the temperature should be on the cooler side, between 60-70 degrees.
#3 – Sleep Routine
This may be the most important, especially for children. Turning the last hour of the day into a routine that promotes relaxation and preparing for bed is a great benefit for getting to sleep, and maximizing sleep time. Taking a shower, or bath, reading or listening to music are all great things to include during this time. Trying to steer clear of emotionally exciting conversation, loud noises, and strenuous exercise is important during this time.
#4 – Go to Bed when you’re Actually Tired
This also may be a difficult for children, but it’s frustrating to lay in bed for hours when you aren’t actually tired. Using a bedtime routine can help assess whether you’re actually tired versus merely overstimulated. If you aren’t tired, do an activity that is relaxing like reading or listening to music until you are sleepy.
#5 – Don’t Eat too Late
Eating right before bed can cause indigestion or increase energy. If you must eat before bed, be mindful of the types of food you’re eating, and whether they are contributing to restless sleep or difficulty sleeping.
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Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.