5 Science-Backed Ways to Improve Your Sleep Cycle (and Decrease Depression)

by ParentCo. September 07, 2016

It's no secret that kids who don’t sleep well at night don’t perform well during the day, but a recent article in Science Daily reported that “children who experience inadequate or disrupted sleep are more likely to develop depression and anxiety disorders later in life.” This finding reinforces the urgent need for a child’s sleep cycle to be healthy and balanced.

In our household, that can be a challenge because I don’t have a healthy sleep cycle myself.

My body clock is perpetually in flux. Nights with little to no sleep are common, and that’s not because of a new baby in the house. Nope, that’s sheer, unadulterated anxiety. Oversleeping on the weekends is, of course, a no-go, because that’s life. Although I try to maintain a traditional schedule, my neurological pathways beg to differ.

I know that the disruption of natural biological rhythm aggravates my depression and anxiety symptoms, and the same goes for kids. Insomnia reinforces or creates states of increased worry, stress, or anxiety, and the cycle just perpetuates.

Oversleeping and depression are correlated. It's not just how many or how few hours I spend sleeping – it's when I'm sleeping. For the better part of last year during a major depressive episode, when I did sleep, my body desperately wanted to sleep through the day and be awake during the night, all night.

When kids’ sleep cycles become disrupted, they become more anxious and depressed, and their school performance can take a dip. They become moody and disrespectful at home. It can escalate quickly.

It’s already back-to-school time, so I’m thinking in terms of a proactive approach. I want to take steps to establish a healthy sleep cycle schedule for the household, and I’ve been researching natural ways to do it.

Melatonin supplements

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that our bodies make. Normally, children and adults will get a surge of melatonin about 30 minutes before they begin to feel drowsy. This change happens with a change in light, so when it gets dark, we begin to feel sleepy. This feeling can get knocked out of whack easily with missed naps, jet lag, or a change in sleep routines. This is where using melatonin supplements could be helpful to “reprogram” the body’s internal clock.

In practical application, both children and adults have found that using natural melatonin supplements has helped significantly. However, while this is a nice short-term solution, (one to five days, as needed) it’s not something that we will be doing indefinitely.

If you choose to try this for yourself or your child, please consult your doctor first.

Blue-blocking glasses

According to a recent article in Newsweek, if you have bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, or insomnia for any other reason it could help to wear amber-tinted glasses after the sun has set.

The idea is that the orange shades block blue light, a major component of sunlight, which the body uses to control our biological clock's internal sense of time and other important functions. The article goes on to say that's why exposure to the morning sun, and that blue light, is good for "resetting" your internal clock if you have jet lag. And it's why the absence of the blue light – a.k.a. darkness – is the brain and body's cue to get ready for sleep.

Clearly, my household was not copied on this memo.

Here’s why: Screen time. The article reported that a hindrance for many people was exposure to the blue light given off by electronics before sleep.

I don't own a smartphone and we don’t do a lot of show-watching in the house, but I am writing (or staring at my computer screen) until I fall asleep. If this blue light theory holds true, then this habit cannot be advantageous for my traditional sleep cycle goal. Likewise, think about how much screen time kids get in the evening with that blue light signaling their brains to stay awake.

Because I spend so much time writing in the evening, I decided to give the amber-tinted safety glasses a go, to "normalize" the sleep cycle disturbance as best I can by donning them after dusk. And yes, I look fabulous.

After wearing them while typing on my computer screen for about 20 minutes (I'm a hunt-and-peck typist), I took them off for a moment to look at the screen, and it did, in fact, appear incredibly blue to my readjusted eyes!

The study referenced in the Newsweek article had outstanding results with no changes to psychotropic medications.

"In a small Norwegian study of 23 people hospitalized for bipolar disorder, scientists assigned 12 to wear “blue-blocking” amber glasses for one week, and 11 not to."

"The paper found an enormous difference between the two groups. Those wearing the amber-tinted glasses for only one week scored on average 14 points lower on a test used to measure mania known as the Young Mania Rating Scale. That’s more than twice what doctors consider to be a 'clinically significant difference' and is a 'remarkably high effect size,' according to a commentary accompanying the study, both of which were published in the journal Bipolar Disorders. Improvements were noticeable after only three nights of wearing the sunglasses."

Reduce screen time in the evening

This one is simple and straightforward. The less screen time you have at night, the less exposure to the blue light that signals the brain to be awake. No need for glasses, gizmos, gadgets, or what-its galore.

Hydrate during the day, not right before bed

Make sure to drink plenty of water during the day and not just before bedtime. This is a guarantee for sleep interruption because it’s going to lead to either a wet bed or a trip to the bathroom. No water before bed time. Period. We can all have water first thing in the morning and we’ll learn our lesson to hydrate very well the next day. This, of course, is not a guarantee that there will be no sleep interruption, but it will certainly help in reducing the chances.

Establish pre-bedtime relaxation routines

Creating pre-bedtime routines for the household can be a critical part of repairing sleep cycles. Practicing deep breathing exercises and putting on calming music is free, easy, and a great pre-bedtime routine to establish. Using lavender can be soothing and it’s proven effective in helping babies, children, and adults fall asleep.

Other ideas for a bedtime routine include:

  • Taking a warm bath or shower within an hour before bedtime.
  • Make it routine. Head to bed at the same time daily. With babies, a faded bedtime often works because it’s consistent and you can work your way towards the desired designated bedtime.
  • Read something reassuring, relaxing, or soothing.
  • Manage your stress: Practice meditation, progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery, prayer, counting your blessings, or the stress management techniques listed above such as deep breathing exercises.

*Speaking with your family doctor about changes in routines or adding supplements is critical for your family’s safety. Do not make changes on your own without first consulting a medical health professional.



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