If it sounds like I am scaremongering, good…
We live in an incredible time of technological advancement where our modern lifestyle has seen us enjoy luxuries and comforts that would astound anyone from 200 years ago. One significant technological advancement is electricity which allowed us to dispose of conventional fatty candles, used for tens of thousands of years, replacing them with reliable and safer electrical lighting which can bathe a room in vibrant illumination at any hour of the day.
To a person in the 1700s, which is not that long ago (about three grandads ago), the idea of electrical light would sound too good to be true, and whilst it has been an immense good, it might not be all that great for us neurologically.
Allow me to explain.
Electrical lighting was developed in the 1870s and entered the mainstream population only as recently as the early 1900s, meaning we’ve been artificially manipulating the light in our homes and buildings for only 120 years. In biological terms, 120 years doesn’t quiver the second’s arm on the evolutionary clock.
You’re probably wondering what does evolution have to do with electrical light? Well, it turns out quite a lot regarding our brain and central nervous system. Scientists have good evidence to suggest that we, Homo Sapiens (‘Wise’-‘Humans’) started evolving around 300,000 years ago, meaning our brains adapted to hundreds of thousands of years’ natural light and light cycles without electrical light. Yes, the use of fire did come into the picture some time ago and allowed us to extend our days into nighttime but candlelight energy, measured in lux, is far less intense than what we see today with modern lighting.
—A little more technical stuff, feel free to skip —
The anatomy of this is rather interesting. A small cluster of cells controls our body clock, about 3mm3 called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus(SCN) and is located, ironically, deep in the darkest area of the brain as part of the anterior hypothalamus. This cluster of cells regulates the release of a hormone called melatonin, and is produced by the pineal gland located nearby and signals to the rest of the brain when it is time to put the sleep processes in place. What’s important to know is that the SCN receives light information from the eyes, not visual information. I’ve been met with confusion regarding this because there is a common perception that sight is like a camera taking a picture or making a movie, but this is not the case; sight is incredibly complex. Your visual cortex has five different regions, each processing its aspects of sight from colour to motion to emotion and more. (You could be visually blind and still register emotions on people’s faces!) Most people I speak to think, and understandably so, that if their eyes see that it’s nighttime, then the brain should know it’s time to sleep, but as you’ve guessed by now, it’s not that simple. Your SCN registers light (not images) hitting the photoreceptors in your eye that sends a message to the SCN to delay the release of melatonin, hence the onset of sleep. A recent addition to our light exposure at night is blue LED light from mobile devices, which is highly effective at signalling sleep delay in the SCN. Melatonin needs around 2 hours to help with sleep onset, so it’s important to avoid viewing mobile devices for at least 2 hours before sleep time.
—technical stuff done—
IMPORTANT: Melatonin is a hormone disrupter, so please DO NOT give your children melatonin supplements to aid sleep, as it disrupts the endocrine system and can cause serious complications.
Technology is advancing at the speed of light, with our brains and nervous systems lagging by a few hundred thousand years or so, and neuroscience is learning quite a lot about how bright light from devices during nighttime affects us.
Studies looking at children, from babies to preschoolers to teenagers, have reported many adverse connections between health issues and poor sleep patterns, problems with body composition, emotional regulation, growth, cognition, academic achievement, quality of life, insulin sensitivity, and blood pressure.
A recent review [https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jsr.12636] it was shown that quality and consistent sleep routine is associated with better behavioural and cognitive outcomes in preschool children, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. Learning is greatly improved in children with adequate and quality sleep, and for those of us with teenagers, strong data links poor and lack of sleep to impulsivity, risk-taking behaviour and substance abuse. Lack of sleep for even one night can impact what’s called ‘myelin water fraction’ and is the amount of myelin available for the brain to develop cells with efficient conduction, the ability to send information fast enough. The details of myelin’s role in the brain are way beyond the scope of this blog post, but you should know that myelin is critical for structural brain development. The lack of myelin in the brain will cause structural brain deficiencies meaning if a child does not have a good sleep routine, she faces slowed brain growth and less white and grey matter.
The list goes on and on.
If it sounds like I am scaremongering, then good because sleep is profoundly important. The consequences of neglecting sleep become more ominous the more we research it.
So what can we do to improve our sleep, especially our children’s sleep?
Here is a list of things you can help aid your child get deep and restorative sleep:
*It’s important to understand that you know your and your family’s health and health needs better than anyone, so the information and recommendations below are just that, information. It’s up to you to decide what is appropriate for you and your family. If you have any concerns about the information provided, please speak to your family physician before changing any medication, adding supplementation or changing behaviour that may seem to carry risk.
- Ensure your child gets the right amount of sleep
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Expose the eyes to outside light [not through a window] first thing in the morning and an hour before bedtime in the evening.
- Avoid mobile devices 2 hours before bedtime.
- Only use light and lamps with low intensity, yellow hue and at or lower than eye level in the evenings.
- Eat carbohydrates for dinner, pasta, rice even oats.
- Drink strong camomile tea before bed; it contains a nootropic called apigenin which aids sleep.
- Give your child a warm bath before bed, and keep the room cool.
- Invest in superb-quality mattresses and pillows.
- Download the Calm app [https://www.calm.com] and have them listen to an audio story with their eyes closed – this works like a dream for nap time.
So to conclude, there is so much more to say about the importance of sleep and how to aid restful sleep; however, the information shared in this blog will go a long way in helping you and your family sleep more soundly.
We feel so strongly about sleep that we’ve developed our own bambooh® Bedtime Biscuit Mix containing ingredients proven to aid better sleep which will be available for purchase soon.
Next week I’ll go a little deeper into screen size and how the size of your device can impact stress levels and anxiety.
Sleep well bambooh Families.
About the author, Petré is currently undertaking his Masters in Science in Applied Neuroscience and King’s College London. If you have more questions or just want to share feedback please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org