In Search of Slumber

Whatever happened to the days of yore when being a child gave you licence to sleep – often and deeply? Recently, I read a news article highlighting the fact that a high percentage of our youth are sleep deprived because of their addiction to texting and easy access to screen time. Many youth are still technologically connected long after their parent’s have entered dreamtime. The result of taking in too much technology before bed is a revved up brain that has trouble winding down. Sleep deprivation affects memory, cognition, performance, concentration, metabolism and much more. If I had just one word of advice to youth today it would be to put down the cell phone, turn off the computer or TV and worship your slumber because sleep is pretty much an uphill struggle from here. 

From the moment we are born, sleep becomes a major focus in life. Society has structured itself so the dark hours are reserved for sleeping but somewhere in the night a hungry infant nurses in the arms of a sleep-deprived parent. The focus of the parent at this point is to help move the child into a sleep pattern that supports optimal health for both the growing child and the tired caregiver. Of course, that being said, children by their very nature seem to be wired to challenge this as often as they can. 

As the teen years approach, the hormonal changes that come with puberty can greatly affect their circadian rhythms. This can impact sleep patterns, which begin to shift toward later nights and a tendency toward wanting to sleep in. However, due to the demands of living in a fast paced society, we have places to be and schedules to keep so too many teens are walking around in a chronic state of sleep deprivation. It is a sad state of affairs to think that a young individual is chronically sleepy before they even enter into their tenuous twenties; the twenty something rite of passage honours burning the candle at both ends and they seem to have the stamina to pull it off.

I urge all parents to teach their child good sleep hygiene habits in the early hours of infancy, as this will set the stage for their overall performance and well being in the future. These good habits are not just limited to children and can be adopted for all ages: 

  1. Begin with having a regular sleep schedule that fits with the family’s/individual lifestyle. While optimal hours may vary for individuals, our younger folk should be getting between 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night. You want to keep these hours as consistent as possible. 
  2. Use the hour before bedtime to create a transition away from stimulation and towards relaxation. Turn off the computer and the TV. This is a good time for a warm bath, cuddling up with a good story and listening to relaxing music. 
  3. Create optimal sleeping conditions in the bedroom. A cooler, consistent room temperature, minimal lighting and relative quietness along with comfortable clothing and sleeping surfaces really do set the stage for a good night’s sleep. 
  4. Diet and lifestyle can also affect sleep hygiene in different ways. Avoid too much caffeine and other stimulants in the diet; have an awareness that emotional stress from too much screen time, family upsets or social influences can interfere with sleep; make time for fresh air and moderate exercise each day. Avoid eating heavy meals too close to bedtime. If you must snack before bed, carbohydrates, tryptophan and calcium all help to induce a sleepy state. Turkey, crackers and some yogurt might be your ticket to dreamland. 

Somewhere in our thirties, we begin to value what we had access to in our 20’s but for many people it comes too late. When you are the sleepy parent pacing the floor at midnight, you begin to wonder if you will ever sleep again. In a perfect world, the answer would be yes. However, for a large majority of people, the transition to the middle ages and senior years becomes synonymous with sleep interruptions. This may be due to health conditions, medications, hormonal imbalances, diet, lifestyle choices or life stressors. If you are not getting the sleep that you need, you are not living your best life. If you implement these strategies and sleep is still elusive, talk with your health care professionals to see how you might gain easier access to dreamland and enjoy the ride.

Good health to you! 

Darlene Booth, R.H.N.

The health articles are for the general information of the reader. While effort is  made to reflect accepted medical practice and knowledge, articles should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specific medical concern or problem and Peoples Drug Mart accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and medical care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. Opinions expressed in sponsored articles by, Dr. Art Hister, Ian Lloyd, and Darlene Booth are editorials and are not necessarily shared by Peoples Drug Mart stores or Peoples Drug Mart (B.C.) Ltd.