Don’t leave a phone in your child’s bedroom

Mike the Psych's Blog

talking_with_your_followers_1600_wht_9116Just the presence of a smartphone or device is enough to disturb children’s sleep patterns as they anticipate the possibility of getting a message and can’t relax.

Using devices  at any point in the 90 minutes before bedtime more than doubles the risk of a poor night’s sleep. Even leaving it charging in the corner can have a detrimental effect, possibly because children are subconsciously engaged with them if they know they are within earshot.

Researchers ta Kings College London examined the digital behaviour of 125,000 children across four continents. It’s known from previous studies that around three-quarters of children and adolescents have at least one device in their bedroom at night.

Screen-based media may adversely affect sleep in different ways: psychologically stimulating the brain, delaying or interrupting sleep time, and affecting sleep cycles, physiology and alertness. They effect both the quality and the duration of sleep.

Sleep is undervalued but…

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School pupils need lessons in getting a good night’s sleep

stick_figure_sleeping_1600_wht_5121Teensleep is a project being rolled out in English schools by Oxford University to help pupils sleep better and improve their exam results as a result.

The teenagers will be taught about their body clocks and the circadian rhythm which shifts in their teens and again when they reach their twenties. They will also learn about the damaging effects of watching TV or playing video games late at night and how the blue light from screens disrupts their sleep cycle.

The project will involve 100 schools divided into four groups. One will start classes at 10.00 am or later, one group will receive sleep education, one group will have sleep education and start lessons later, and the fourth (control) group will follow the usual school timetable.

Professor Russell Foster hopes to get enough data from the project to enable a definitive view to be reached. He said “Studies in the States have shown that if you start the school day later you can reduce self-harm and truancy and academic performance goes up.

Pupils’ grades will be measured before and after the interventions and wrist-worn monitors will record sleep patterns. The teenagers’ modes will also be assessed.

One college principal says that “parents have a more relaxed attitude about bedtimes these days and teenagers’ rooms are like entertainment zones. A lot of kids are involved in playing video games against kids from other countries across different time zones so they stay up much later. The 24/7 social media lifestyle is a real issue. If you wake up in the night and find you have to reach for your phone to check what is on, that will prevent you going back to sleep

Many children are suffering from poor quality or disrupted sleep and as a result are tired and irritable in school. They fuel themselves on  caffeine or sugary drinks, and then they can’t sleep. Professor Foster thinks teenagers need nine hours sleep a night for peak intellectual performance.

  • Sleep helps consolidate memories, integrates information, and clears toxins from the brain.
  • Lack of sleep increases impulsivity, reduces empathy and causes memory difficulties. It also releases hormones which make you feel hungry which contributes to the obesity epidemic.

Not everyone agrees with starting school lessons later. As one head said “We have to prepare pupils for the adult world, which often doesn’t revolve around them”.

Improve your sleep by:

  1. making sure your bedroom is comfortable and dark with no distracting noises
  2. have a winding-down routine 60-90 minutes before bedtime. Read a book or play relaxing music. Write a diary or plan the next day.
  3. switch off all electronic devices and televisions at least an hour before you want to sleep
  4. don’t use smart phones, iPads or watch TV in bed
  5. set a regular time to get up and stick to it
  6. if you are not asleep in 15 minutes go through your winding-down routine again until you feel sleepy

Too many people are addicted to their smart phones and suffer from FOMO. Students are particularly obsessed with social media

Source: Sunday Times

See previous post on getting a good night’s sleep and becoming smarter

Middle-aged advised to get to bed more

stick_figure_sleeping_1600_wht_5121They need the sleep apparently. It’s the best medicine for middle aged people as research shows that lack of sleep is linked to ill-health including heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Lack of sleep is blamed on shift work, and night shifts in particular, and the use of smart phones and laptops in bed. Working on a computer at or shortly before bedtime is particularly bad for you as your melatonin levels are reduced. Melatonin is a hormone that indices sleepiness.

Research at Surrey University has shown that more than 700 genes – including those linked to immunity and inflammation – are altered when your sleep is reduced to less than six hours a day.

Middle-aged people are believed to particularly at risk because of increased work and family demands.

However Professor Jim Horne who established the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University is not convinced that there would be benefits from a campaign targeting sleep as planned  by Public Health England.

He thinks it’s the quality not quantity of sleep that’s important and doesn’t believe that there is convincing evidence that we’re getting less sleep than our forefathers.

If you’ve already stopped smoking, are taking more exercise and cut down on the booze then getting more sleep is something else you can try.

UPDATE September 12 2015

The wrong amount of sleep can make you ill. Sleeping too much i.e. more than 9 hours a night, or too little i.e. fewer than 5 hours a night, can increase the deposits of calcium which clog up the coronary artery.

Women are at a greater risk of getting a lesion in this artery as a result of poor sleep than men.

The scientists who carried out the research on 29,000 people in South Korea, found that seven hours sleep was the optimal amount. “Inadequate sleep is a common problem and a likely source of poor health including visible signs of disease such as heart attack”

People who slept for more than 9 hours had 70% more calcium in their coronary artery than those who slept 7 hours. People who slept for less than 5 hours had 50% more.

The changes might be the result of the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, throwing the body’s biochemistry out of balance.

Statins making women more aggressive!

stick_figure_sitting_on_pills_1600_wht_13337Statins, hailed as the wonder drug all of us should be given after a certain age, and designed to reduce our cholesterol levels, have been found to have some unwelcome side effects.

Scientists have found that women over 45, who haven’t previously shown any inclination to be violent, tend to be more aggressive when taking statins.

According to Professor Beatrice Golomb at the University of California said “Many studies have like low cholesterol to increased risk of violent actions ands death from violence” (whether suicide ,accident or homicide).

Her team carried out trials on 1,000 men and post-menopausal women. Those who struggled to get to sleep appeared to be the ones at most risk of a surge in aggression.

While a few men became more aggressive, generally statins seem to make men less angry, particularly younger men (who tend to be more aggressive anyway).

The greater the drop in testosterone for those on the statin simvastatin the greater the drop in aggression on average.

A greater rise in sleep problems for those on it was significantly linked to a greater rise in aggression.

So if you’re a post-menopausal women taking statins and having trouble sleeping – you may be more prone to violent outbursts. Partners beware!

Want a good night’s sleep?

stick_figure_sleeping_1600_wht_5121The trick is to get out of the house and do something with a purpose, possibly.

So, for example, playing golf or gardening could help you sleep better.

Exercise has been recommended in the past as an aid to sleeping but new research has found that some activities are more beneficial than others.  For example although doing housework increases your physical activity levels it is disruptive to sleeping patterns just like childcare!

The study of over 400,000 people, by the University of Pennsylvania, asked them what activities they had been doing over the previous month and how much sleep they had had every day.

People who walked, did aerobics, cycled, gardened, played golf, ran, or did Pilates, tended to get more sleep than people who were less active.

Those who get exercise simply by walking are more likely to have better sleep habits but these effects are even stronger for more purposeful activities such as running, yoga, gardening and golf” said the research team.

On the other hand people whose activity related to housework and childcare were more likely to experience insufficient sleep as home and work demands are some of the main reasons for poor sleep patterns.

What the research doesn’t prove is that the purposeful activities were actually the cause of better sleep. It could be that people who take part in these activities are healthier and more relaxed anyway i.e. the results show correlation but not causation.

However the researchers say “These results are consistent with the growing scientific literature on the role of sleep in human performance. Lab studies show that lack of sleep is associated with poor physical and mental performance and this study shows us that this is consistent with real-world data as well“.

See also: Get smart, get more sleep; Midlife sleeping rules

Midlife sleeping rules

stick_figure_sleeping_1600_wht_5121Sleep problems often arise when you reach your 50s and can become a real problem in your sixties when about 50% of people struggle to get to sleep or  stay asleep in the early hours.

And at times like Xmas when we can all get a bit stressed or eat and drink more than we normally do it can stop us getting good quality sleep.

Sleep expert Dr Guy Meadow set out some advice in the Times a short while ago which is worth repeating:

Don’t go to bed too early. Because you go out less you probably go to bed earlier. You might try going to bed later after having a bath or reading so you feel really tired

Don’t drink alcohol before sleep. Alcohol is a sedative but it also disturbs sleep and can arouse your body increasing your heart rate, your sweating, and dehydration.

Check your medication isn’t interfering with sleep. Blood pressure and cholesterol medication can affect sleep quality so check with your GP for alternatives.

Don’t drink too much water. It’s striking a balance between becoming dehydrated and getting up in the night. A glass of water by the bed should help.

Eat light at night. Don’t go to bed on a full stomach as indigestion will keep you awake. Not eating at all and your stomach will let you know of that too. A banana or glass of milk will help but not things that give you a sugar rush and wake you up. Avoid coffee or tea, which both contain caffeine. Try herbal drinks or hot milk

Do some exercise but don’t overdo it. Yoga can improve brain function. Gentle stretching and walking also help (but not in your sleep of course!) Yoga can also calm anxiety.

Open your bedroom window. Sleeping in a stuffy bedroom can impair sleep quality. Staying indoors more and lack of fresh air means a stuffy environment, snoring and poor sleep. Open window even if only while you get ready for bed. It will improve air circulation and stop you over-heating.

Don’t accept snoring. May be caused by smoking, too much alcohol, your medication.  Consider getting a better mattress, a bigger bed or separate duvets.

Practise mindfulness. Dr Meadows prefers teaching mindfulness rather than relaxation exercises as if relaxation doesn’t work that can be a source of frustration. Mindfulness involves focussing on the here and now. How the pillow feels, your own breathing, sounds you can hear.

You can download the Sleep School App which features mindfulness exercises and other advice from for £2.99. Click on the support products page.

NB This is not a sponsored posting. I have no connection with Dr Meadow or his products.

Cuddle up and stay close

hotel_room_1600_wht_12721Couples who cuddle up in bed are more likely to have a good relationship.

That’s according to Professor Richard Wiseman and his team of psychologists at the University of Hertfordshire who studied the sleeping habits of 1,000 people.

Professor Wiseman said; “What happens at night reflects what is happening during the day. One of the most important differences was how much couples touched.”

94% of couples who spent the night in contact with each other were happy in their relationships compared to only 68% of those who didn’t touch.

And the farther apart the couples were during the night the more likely they were to be unhappy with their relationships. 86% of couples who slept less than an inch apart  were satisfied compared to only 66% of those who slept more than 30″ apart.

The most popular sleep position was back-to-back (42%) followed by sleeping facing the same direction (32%) with only 4% sleeping face-to-face.

If you’re having problems it might help to cuddle more, after all looking into someone’s eyes makes them appear more attractive.

Previous research has shown that women in long-term relationships fell asleep more quickly and woke up less during the night than single women or hose in new relationships.

Hungry babies are programmed to wake you up

They might wake you up every couple of hours for a feed but all for a good reason.

stick_figure_sleeping_10955It seems babies are evolutionary programmed to do just that.

Researchers at Harvard University looking into breastfeeding and sleeping practices argue that by waking up their Mums for a feed they are delaying the return of her ovulation cycle (as well as reducing the time and energy to have sex).

This helps prevent the birth of a sibling with whom they would have to compete for food.

This can be a substantial benefit when food is scarce. In Somalia for example the mortality rate for 1 year-old children was increased fourfold if they had a younger sibling.

Professor David Haig, writing in the journal Evolution, Medicine and Public Health, says “there is no perfect harmony between mother and child. What is best for one is not necessarily best for the other”.

The research might explain why children can revert to waking up frequently in the night after 6 months and why babies fed formula milk tend to sleep more soundly (because there is a weaker incentive to demand food as formula is always available).

Have a Perfect Day

You’ve all heard about body clocks and thought about whether you’re a lark or an owl.

Looking through my archive of “interesting’ stuff I might use one day I came across an article in the Guardian Weekend by Peta Bee about how to plan your day according to your body clock.

0600-0700 Wake up. Our internal body clocks are programmed to go off after 7-8 hours sleep. With daylight the production of sleep-producing hormones, such as melatonin (now used to treat jet lag), slows down.

This raises your body temperature to make you more active until, in the late evening between 10-11 pm, your heart rate slows, stress hormones drop, and your sleep hormones kick in to make you drowsy.

By  early morning, 3 – 4 am your alertness and body temperature drops to its lowest levels before your body clock kicks in a few hours later to wake you up. That’s according to Dr Michael Smolensky at the Chronobiology Centre at the University of Texas.

0800 -0900 Eat your breakfast.  Your body is ready to digest food most efficiently and a healthy breakfast with carbohydrates will stave off food cravings and improve your mood for the day according to scientists at Leeds University.

0815 Work out. Exercise in the morning is more likely to boost your mood with double the level of well-being experienced by people who exercised in the evening, according to research at Glasgow University.

1000 & 1400 Snack. Regular mealtimes help your metabolism to work more efficiently according to researchers at Nottingham University. People who do this consume fewer calories and burn them faster. Eating every 3 to 4 hours helps control blood sugar levels.

1600-1900 Eat main meal. Eating the major part of your food intake in the evening is controversial but it could improve your health. According to scientists at the American National Institute on Ageing it mirrors the pattern of hunter gatherers who swung between feast and famine. In some parts of the world however, eg in Lithuania, the main meal is taken at lunchtime.

2130 Take Aspirin. Taking pills at the right time can boost their efficacy and minimise side effects according to research at the American Medical Association. Aspirin taken before bed-time can reduce your blood pressure. Osteoarthritis is worse in the evenings and asthma attacks far more likely (like x 300 times) between 0200 and 0600. As your blood pressure starts to increase in the early hours you are more likely to have a burst blood vessel then. But check with your doctor before you start making changes.

Research at Harvard found that the most dangerous times for coronary events including strokes were in the last stages of sleep and in the morning. The risk was 40% higher between 0600 and noon and 3 times higher between 0600 and 0900. Our body clock really does have a major impact on our health so it’s better to work with it than against it.

Source: Guardian Weekend 18/3/06 plus others