When a child is having issues with sleep we start by looking at a child’s rhythms from the moment they wake up until the finally close their eyes. A lot of kids we work with having troubles falling asleep or staying asleep and there are lots of reasons why this could be happening, such as temperature, sleep disorders, medication and so much more.
However, the one I want to chat about here is the impact of light. The light of the day helps to set our sleep wake cycles. Often we think we need to look at the time just before a child falls asleep, this is important yes, however it can be what happens throughout the day that is just as important.
- Getting lots of light exposure in the morning helps to switch of the sleep hormone melatonin which has then alert and ready to face the day. It also helps to set the timer for when melatonin gets turned on 12 hours + or so later. So a tip is to eat your breakfast in the sunniest place you can find, whether that is outside or by a window. There are some cool apps that read the light brightness on your phone that kids love playing around to find the best spot to sit.
- Blue light; we all have heard that watching TV and playing with electronics before bed isn’t good for you. This is because the blue light that emits from these devices stops melatonin production which is the bodies sleep hormone. So of course healthy routines around now technology before bed is always a great place to start. For some kids playing on their ipad or device is the only calming strategy that parents have currently got to get them to bed. So perhaps start with putting the night function on the device which helps reduce the blue light emission. You can also get glasses that have a blue light filter (very handy for those adults whose job involves a lot of screen use). One of our OT’s Laura even has this filter put into her normal reading glasses!
- Get kids out into the sun in the afternoon so that their brain is able to pick up on the cues that the light is fading and so it is almost time to go to bed.
- Think about the lighting that the child is exposed to during their bedtime routine. Start to use dimmer lights as you go through each activity. For example full lights for bath time, a lamp to read by and then a dimmer night light to listen to music to before it gets turned off for sleep.
Some people have started treatments such as light therapy to help set their bodies circadian rhythm (the bodies body clock that sets sleep/wake time) to help them get into the right time zone for sleep. This is quite commonly used in countries in the northern hemisphere where there are long periods of light and dark over the different months.
So have a think about what light your child is exposed to throughout the day and how you might be able to use this to your advantage to help them sleep. If you want any more ideas or tips then please let us know!