Why is Sleep Important?
Sleep is a restorative state in which the nervous system is relatively inactive, the eyes are closed, the postural muscles are relaxed, and consciousness is suspended. All sleep is not the same; a period of sleep is comprised of several cycles and stages, some of which are more restorative than others. Restorative sleep is crucial for brain development and good health.
To be healthy, the body must sleep for about a third of a 24 hour day. Children require more sleep than adults because their bodies and brains are in the process of developing language, attention and impulse control. The adult recommendations are for eight to nine hours, while kids need 10-12, depending upon age.
Having both sides of your brain well-connected helps facilitate and maximize learning, memory, and creativity. The strength of these brain connections increases as much as 20% while sleeping. They also know that the myelin, which is the fatty layer formed around the neurons important for language, attention and impulse control, also develops during sleep. Researchers believe that Albert Einstein’s genius was related to the fact that his two hemispheres worked well together.
What’s more, scientists have recently discovered a lymphatic system in the brain! This lymphatic system is responsible for cleaning out the cellular ‘junk’ (toxins!) in the brain and also for bringing key nutrients to brain cells. What does this have to do with sleep? This lymphatic system is largely functional when you are sleeping! If you don’t sleep, your brain is not able to flush out toxins and other cellular debris.
What will your doctor tell you about sleep?
Doctors may ask if your child has difficulty falling asleep, wakes up during the night, has nightmares or sleeps during the day instead of the night. Pediatricians often suggest trying one or more of the following:
- No eating or drinking, especially sugar-laden products before bed
- No caffeinated foods or drinks during the day
- No TV, video games or other electronic devices too close to bedtime
- No overstimulation, such as rough-housing, prior to bedtime
- Setting a consistent bedtime with daily rituals prior to turning in.
Another way to think about sleep
For the many children who experience both short- and long-term chronic sleep issues, many functional medicine doctors and other integrative health care practitioners look for possible causes. Here are some to consider:
- Inflammation (anywhere in the body) which can alter brain and hormone chemistry
- An imbalance in the neurotransmitters, including serotonin, acetylcholine, GABA and dopamine
- Elevated levels of microorganism such as yeast, mold, fungus, parasites
- Elevated emotional and psychological stress
- Imbalances in the adrenal cortical hormones, adrenal cortex, aldosterone, pituitary, hypothalamus and pineal axis, testosterone, and cortisol levels
- Vagus nerve imbalances
- Cranial nerve imbalances
- Overactive sympathetic nervous system
- Too much processed salt and sugar in the diet
- Excitotoxicity reaction from too many glutamates in the diet
- Low levels of lithium
- Toxicity from chemicals, preservatives, GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), and other endocrine disruptors,
- Electromagnetic smog from wireless and electronics.
- Blue light from electronic devices in the evening (which suppresses melatonin, the important sleep hormone)
- Lack of full-spectrum sunlight in the daytime
Talk to your healthcare practitioner about some ways to help support natural, healthy sleep including:
- Herbs such as skullcap, valerian root, passion flower, hops, and kava kava.
- Essential oils and Bach Flower remedies.
- Homeopathics, such as coffea cruda, chamomile, aconite, and valeriana.
- Slow release melatonin, 5 HTP, Tryptophan, L-Theanine, magnesium glycinate, B6 or P5P, calcium citrate, and over-the counter- combinations of these.
- GABA for the child with high anxiety and aggression or high glutamate
- Turning off WiFi, cellphones, iPads and removing corded phones from the house.
- Reducing night-time blue light exposure
- Increasing daytime sunlight exposure.
If you have addressed these issues but are still dealing with sleep issues:
- Ask your doctor to contact Neurosciences Laboratory and order the sleep disorder test kit: Neurosciences Laboratory provides their own individual supplement protocol formulated by them based the test results.
- Find a therapist or osteopathic physician who does Craniosacral therapy, a center for Neurobiofeedback, a chiropractic or a chiropractic neurologist.
- Talk to your healthcare practitioner about Low Dose Naltrexone on the skin for children on the autism spectrum.
- Many therapies focusing on detoxification, therapies for viruses, bacteria, and heavy metals, dietary interventions, sensory based therapies, and any therapies which improve the immune system will often times improve the quality of sleep in a child as the inflammatory condition decreases.