The Melatonin Link

Last week UBalancer introduced 230 adolescent boys to the link between their brains and their sleep. How many of us think that our brains go to sleep for a well -deserved rest when we cuddle into our snug beds every night? They’ve been hard at work all day long, thinking, remembering, focusing, processing and creating, so surely they deserve a break!

Sleep facts have always fascinated me – sea otters falling asleep holding hands, giraffes only needing 1.9 hours of sleep each day and snails sleeping for 3 years! Some people only dream in black and white and it’s virtually impossible to sneeze with our eyes closed!

We humans have differing needs when it comes to our sleeping patterns, with most of us benefiting from 8-9 hours of shut eye every night. Adolescents require a bit more, somewhere around 9-10 hours, and for many reasons most simply don’t reach that target these days.

Our brains actually become very active while we sleep. A functioning MRI shows up changes in blood flow in the brain, a kaleidoscope of bright colours as our 100 billion brain cells activate at various stages of our sleep cycle. Knowledge we have gained through the day becomes embedded, our thoughts are processed and our creativity ignited.

School life is busy, and by the time students have finished their co-curricular activities and homework (those dreaded assignments!), there isn’t much opportunity for relaxation and family time. Students love to hear that their marks will improve simply by sleeping more – as their physical, cognitive and emotional abilities will have benefited during their sleep.

The single biggest change I see occurring is the influence of the internet and smart device access in students’ lives – stealing into those precious evening hours and robbing sleeping time. Students as young as twelve are watching three to five hours of you tube videos at night, checking their Instagram and Snapchat pages. Parents may turn off the internet at a certain time every night, but the reality is that our adolescents would benefit from learning personal strategies that help them take control of the choices they are making. At some stage, they’ll need to manage internet addictions and form healthy habits around reasonable bed times and sleep routines.

Students are always intrigued to hear that the blue light from their laptops/ipads and phones prevents the production of melatonin, a hormone that prepares their brain for sleep. As it gets darker outside and less light enters their eyes, melatonin starts to be produced and they start to get sleepy.

Imagine what a great sleep our ancestors had in days gone by with no electric light or internet driven devices to disrupt their melatonin! Less melatonin means it’ll be harder to fall asleep, and we’re more likely to wake up feeling jet lagged and tired.

So how can we get around this problem, as many students do need to work on those assignments into the night time hours. My answer is to encourage them to download a free app onto their devices to block the blue light component – it’s called f.lux – and will enable them to look at laptops/ phones without interrupting melatonin production.

I’ll leave you this week with some ideas and tips on how students can better manage their sleep:

  • Encourage them to find out more about their brains and the melatonin link
  • Download the app ‘f.lux’ onto all laptops/ipads and phones
  • Download the app ‘Smiling Mind’ to help unwind and relax
  • Turn off all devices at least 30 minutes before going to sleep
  • Build a healthy ‘before bed’ routine – how to wind down and relax (read a book, listen to music)
  • Discover the benefits of being asleep by 10 pm to maximise melatonin production
  • Study a couple of hours before going to bed – all this knowledge will be ‘embedded’ while they are sleeping
  • Think about how they will celebrate when they have successfully built a healthy sleep pattern and start feeling the amazing benefits!

I wish you happy sleeping!
Cheers Alison