Let there be blue light
Some WA teenagers with sleep disturbances are using light therapy — traditionally used by shiftworkers and those with insomnia.
The blue light is emitted from a small box and can adjust sleep patterns, boost mood and increase energy levels.
For most students, controlling the level of light they are exposed to can improve the amount of deep sleep they get, with positive knock-on effects on stress levels and academic results.
Nedlands sleep physician Jack Philpott said the first and last 60 minutes of a student’s day were crucial to achieving better academic results.
“Sleep is really important to how students do in tests, ” Dr Philpott said. “When someone is asked to recall information, memory is better when there has been rich, deep sleep in-between when the information is learnt and when it is tested.
“There is no doubt that learning is affected by the depth and the duration of sleep. It’s the reason why cramming all night is not a good strategy. Not only does it lead to problems with insomnia but the brain does not retain any new information because there hasn’t been an adequate amount of sleep in-between the initial learning and the subsequent testing.”
Dr Philpott said students who were exposed to artificial light from devices in their bedrooms less than an hour before they tried to go off to sleep were more likely to experience interrupted sleep.
“Teenagers need to have some downtime. Put those lights to rest and do some non- occupational reading, away from any screens, ” he said. “Often in this age group, there is a delayed sleep phase because they have a slightly different circadian biological clock. Having a regular awake time with some sunlight in the morning and limiting light exposure after 10pm can combat the delay.”
Adolescent sleep specialist Adelaide Withers said consistency of sleep was just as important as its duration in consolidating memory.
“When they first get up, it’s important for students to get some bright sunlight and fresh air to help reset their sleep hormones, ” Dr Withers said. “At night, it’s difficult for the brains to switch off, so doing something completely unrelated to study will help. Often a warm shower will relax them and flip the sleep switch on.”
Dr Withers said getting fresh air, exercise, healthy food and taking relaxing short breaks in-between study would all help with setting up good sleep habits. It took at least four weeks for people to get into a routine, so students who didn’t have one, should start now. Those who still experienced sleep problems could have a medical sleep disorder or a mental health issue and should be seen by their GP, she said.
TIPS FOR A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP
•Stay away from bright lights.
•Set aside “worry time” for earlier in the day or evening.
•Avoid coffee and tea, especially later in the day.
•Keep TVs, computers and electronic games out of the bedroom.
•Avoid strenuous exercise in the few hours before bed, but get plenty of exercise during the day.
•Keep your bed for sleeping, not for reading a screen or doing homework.
•Do something relaxing in the hour before bed.
•Limit spicy or salty foods which can cause you to wake.
•Hide all clocks so you don’t worry about the time.
•Try to stick to a routine.
•Wake up at the same time every day.
•Get some sunlight and fresh air in the morning.
© The West Australian
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