Over thousands of years, the human brain has evolved into an intricate and dynamic system that knows how to set its own internal clock. There’s a hormone, Melatonin, which is made by a small gland in the brain that works like the bodies natural “sleepy juice”. When we wake up in the morning (in fact it is the light passing over our retina that stops that Melatonin production) we become alert and ready to start the day as Melatonin production slows for the daytime. As the day wears on, our Melatonin production increases again around mid to late evening, making us tired and ready to hop into bed at night. The next morning, when the morning sun creeps into your bedroom, Melatonin production ceases and the wake/sleep cycle starts all over again.
Do you ever have trouble waking up and feeling energized in the winter months? Many people report a low mood and sluggishness when the days get shorter and it has a lot to due with less sun light each day and an over-production of Melatonin. Try throwing your curtains open when your alarm goes off, turn on lots of lights in your home, get outside each morning, even if it is only to grab a coffee. Research shows that social cues such as a brief conversation with your local barista can help to kickstart your wake/sleep cycle too.
Now that you are a Melatonin expert, there is one big problem to address –the use of back lit screens, like iphones and computers trick our cave man brain into thinking that we are looking at the sun (light passing over the retina) thus reducing the bodies natural “sleepy juice” production. It’s a simple formula: not enough sleepy juice at bedtime = not being tired when your head hits the pillow. With the pervasive use of iphones and ipads as household basics, the increase in reported sleep disruption has skyrocketed!! Instead of spending the before-bedtime hours reflecting on the day, households are plugging into devices and stimulating a tired brain.
Over the past 10 years, there have been more sleeping disorders reported than any other time in history! Frequently youth share honestly in therapy that they stay up at night, texting friends and watching utube clips because they can’t sleep. Well here’s the catch, watching a back light screen is the WORST remedy for insomnia; it only makes the problem worse because it turns off your brains natural sleepy juice production. See the negative cycle? Add to that, the impulsivity of teens and their inability to self-monitor and you have the perfect recipe for sleep problems. My recommendation: take all electronics, especially those with internet access out of the bedroom at night. (hint: buy yourself ear plugs for when your teenager throws an epic tantrum at the new rule).
Chronic sleep disruption can lead to an increase in depression, anxiety, poor coping skills and trouble learning. These serious symptoms have been observed by parents, teachers and professionals alike, so set a family rule to promote good mental health and positive life skills –UNPLUG 2 HOURS BEFORE BEDTIME.