Teresa Fuller MD, PhD
In a previous blog, Seven Ways that Exercise Helps Maintain a Healthy Brain, I outlined the importance of exercise for brain health.
Now on the flip side of that is the importance of sleep for brain health. Lack of sleep is so significant to brain function that 24 hours without sleep or a week of sleeping four or five hours a night induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1%. That is higher than the legally drunk blood alcohol level of 0.08%!
- causes impairment of performance, concentration, vigilance and memory
- can have permanent effects on memory and brain cell connectivity
- impairs reaction time and cognition
Is your child getting enough sleep? Studies show that 30 – 40% of children do not get enough sleep each night. More and more children are having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
So, given how important sleep is to our brain health, here are 5 strategies for helping your child sleep well:
- Practice a regular sleep routine: Start an hour before bed with a consistent and low key activity, such as reading to your child and having bath time. Including a regular bedtime and wake up time as part of the routine, are important principles of good sleep hygiene.
- Have your child exercise during the day. A sedentary pattern during the day can inhibit night-time sleepiness. Exercise should not occur within 2 hours of going to bed.
- Stop drinking caffeinated beverages early in the afternoon. Caffeinated drinks are very popular with adolescents who still require 9 to 10 hours of sleep at night. The stimulatory effects of caffeine can last up to eight hours.
- If your child has difficulty falling asleep at night, try giving tart cherry juice or cherry concentrate an hour before bed. Tart cherry juice is rich in melatonin, a natural sleep inducing chemical. Other common nutritional supplemental remedies include valerian, inositol, lavender, and chamomile, which are easily consumed in herbal teas.
- Remove the “screens” from the bedroom. Statistics show that of kids ages 8 to 18, 71% have a television in their bedroom, and 36% have a computer in their bedroom. Ideally, the bedroom should be free of these devices, but certainly they should be turned off at least an hour before bedtime. By the way, this includes the cell phone: 1 in 10 children report being awakened by text messages during the night (although I’m sure the percentage is higher than that).
If you try these strategies and they do not result in better sleep for your child, he or she may have a sleep disorder. I encourage you to seek the help of a pediatrician who can identify the underlying cause of your child’s poor sleep, and restore a healthy sleep pattern for your child’s the optimal brain health.
Teresa Fuller MD, PhD, is an integrative pediatrician at National Integrated Health Associates, NIHA, serving Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia. She is double board-certified in pediatrics and integrative holistic medicine with a doctorate in physiology. Dr. Fuller is in a unique position to positively impact the health of children by identifying the underlying contributors to disease such as nutrient deficiencies, toxicities, infection and stresses, in order to reverse symptoms and restore your child’s health. Her focus is prevention of chronic illness and obesity in children and young adults, ADHD, asthma and allergies.