Why Sleep Is Important:
We all know how far a good night’s sleep can go in ensuring we are at our best. And we all know how much poor sleep affects us and leaves us at less than our best. This goes double for our children who are rapidly undergoing so much growth and development throughout their lives, as well as having to navigate an ever-changing world filled with various stressors and challenges, we didn’t have to deal with when we were kids.
Sleep serves a variety of purposes for our brains and our bodies ranging from physical restoration and growth, as well as mental, emotional & cognitive development. We have different phases of sleep such as Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) commonly referred to as ‘deep sleep’ which is where our body is physically repairing itself either from injuries or just the wear and tear, we go through daily, or helping our kid’s bodies to grow. Another key phase of sleep is our Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM Sleep). This is known to be the time where cognitive and mental functions are consolidated, such as turning short term memories into long term memories to facilitate learning.
Some of the key benefits of optimal sleep include:
– Better growth hormone production
– Healthy weight management
– Protein production that fights germs/infection and stress
– Lower injury risk
– Repaired muscles
– Memory and motor skill development
– Vocabulary acquisition
– Improved alertness
– Cognitive resilience
– Creative thinking and problem-solving
– Emotional regulation & mood.
– Make positive decisions easier.
– Better at making and maintaining relationships with others.
– Lower risk of depression and anxiety
– Processing experiences from our day
Factors That Disrupt Optimal Sleep:
There are many things that can throw our sleep off, these are generally the most common things to look out for that may be affecting your child’s sleep.
1. Altered circadian rhythm/body clock.
Our body has an internal clock that is cued by a variety of signals such as sunlight exposure, mealtimes, daily routines and so on. Our brain is constantly trying to sync the processes going on within the body with the environment we are in i.e., your body will put digestion on hold while you perform vigorous exercise or sports and will relax your muscles when you sleep.
When our external environment is signaling to us the wrong things for what we need at that time is when our body clock can be thrown out. An example of this is exposure to bright, blue lights just before bed. Bright light signals to our brain it’s time to wake up, so we can see how this becomes counterproductive to our sleep routines.
2. Anxiety & Stress.
We’ve all been there. We have a deadline looming, we have financial stress, tension in family relationships and so on. Stress sucks and it is especially detrimental to our sleep. Although we may not fully recognize it, kids experience just as much, if not more stress and anxiety than adults do! It’s just usually in a different form and kids don’t always have the ability to communicate what they’re feeling.
When we experience stress and anxiety it triggers our body’s fight or flight response. This is our Sympathetic nervous system. When this system is active it suppresses our Parasympathetic system which is our calming, rest, relax & digest system. The branch of our central nervous system that allows us to calm down, unwind and go to sleep easily.
3. Too Much Stimulation.
As stated above, it’s our brain and central nervous system that are responsible for getting us into a calm, relaxed state and able to go to sleep. When we engage in stimulating activities it gets our nervous system revved up and into fight or flight, which suppresses the calming, relaxing functions such as sleep. Stimulation such as sports, screen time and sugar can all negatively impact sleep when they’re too close to our bedtime.
Signs your child is not getting enough sleep or good quality sleep:
- Low energy and fatigue
- Frequent illnesses and prolonged recovery
- Frequent injury and growing pains
- Low mood and emotional outburst/meltdowns
- Difficulty focusing, retaining information and learning.
- Digestive challenges such as constipation
- Anxiety and depression
- Poor impulse control
- Short fused and snappy.
Natural Remedies for Kids Sleep:
1. Keep a consistent routine, especially leading up to bedtime.
For optimal sleep we need to work with our body’s internal clock and rhythm. When we are consistent in our routines our body can easily anticipate what’s next and begin to prepare for that event/activity. Using this knowledge to our advantage, having the same wake time and bedtime each day allows us to get that body clock on a good schedule.
We can also participate in set activities prior to bed, and if done consistently will signal to our brain that bedtime and sleep is next. This could be having a warm bath, reading a bedtime story, using a white noise machine, doing some mindfulness such as breathing exercises and meditation, putting our screens away 1-2 hours before bed, or anything else you enjoy doing and can make a consistent habit out of.
Even if the activities might seem more for adults, such as a meditation, these are great skills you can teach your children that they can carry with them for life.
2. Avoid screens and artificial light.
We briefly touched on this above, that bright light signals our brain that it’s time to wake up. Bright light from screens, is of the same frequency as that of a rising sun. Very bright and dense in the ‘blue light’ spectrum. When we are exposed to this kind of light it raises our body’s levels of cortisol which causes us to be alert and awake, and suppresses production of melatonin, our sleeping hormone.
The earlier you can put down screens the better but aiming for 1-2 hours before bed will get the best effects. You could also invest in a pair of blue light blocking glasses such as the Sleep+ model from Bon Charge (linked below) which help offset the effects of blue light on melatonin production.
3. Ensure the central nervous system is well balanced.
We talked earlier about the central nervous system controlling sleep and wakefulness, specifically due to shifting between sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) states. Normally the brain and nervous system shifts gears between these two modes but there are times where the brain gets stuck in fight or flight mode and it’s much more common than you might think. When the brain is stuck in fight or flight, pediatric chiropractors call this Subluxation.
When Tommy* (name has been changed for privacy) first came to see us at The Wellness Collective sleep was a big issue. He was only 4 years old, couldn’t fall asleep or stay asleep to the point where he had been prescribed melatonin supplementation. By no means are we saying melatonin supplementation doesn’t have a place, but at only 4 years old this is much too young in our opinion, since when we add in these hormones externally our body has no reason to even try produce it internally. This can lead to long lasting issues later in life with hormone production and mental/cognitive functions.
He was also struggling with his behavior and emotional regulation, having frequent emotional outbursts and meltdowns. This can be another sign of a brain stuck in stress, but they certainly weren’t helped by his lack of sleep.
When we ran our neurological scans on Tommy it was clear his brain was stuck in fight or flight. We can see this on his EMG scan by looking at the ‘energy index’. When this is high it indicates his nervous system is ‘idling high’ revving on the gas pedal all the time. This was stopping him from being able to unwind, relax, produce melatonin, and drift off to sleep.
Compared to a progress scan after consistent neurologically focused chiropractic care we can see that energy score much lower and closer to the normal range. This has allowed him to have fewer emotional outbursts and meltdowns, fall asleep easier, stay asleep longer and even reduce his melatonin dose from 3mg to 0.5mg and working on completely weaning him off!
If you’ve tried all the above sleep strategies and your child is still struggling, we’d love to help! Simply click HERE and one of our team will reach out and get your child scheduled for their neurological scans and we can help you get back on track!
Dr Ben Edwards
Chiropractor & Hope Dealer
The Wellness Collective