Had something really interesting happen in our own home a few years ago that I thought would be really helpful to other parents who deal with behavior and information processing problems with their kids. My disclaimer here is that it is not hard science-just an interesting connection I noticed, and if it can be helpful to other parents, I am happy.
I consider our kids to have behavior and processing levels commensurate with their age levels and they are very good kids. The 2 older ones had much better progression with their processing skills then the 3rd and like all parents we try to provide help. We just thought it was a difference in the kids and never thought anything different.
One night, I went into the kid’s room (they all like to share) after they had fallen asleep, and I noticed that even with the blinds shut completely tight, the street light was shining through the openings and creating a lot of light on the walls. Although I had seen it before, I had not really noticed how bright it made the room and how it aimed right at our youngest's bed. Since I had just read about the benefits of totally dark sleep and the negative effects of sleeping with light in the room ( I am an avid reader of things that can effect behavior and processing in kids), I thought this might be important, so I decided to try an experiment that had some interesting results.
With or without the light in the room, our 3rd child’s sleep was definitely not the same as the first 2 as they were so close in age, that they got lots of sleep. Having a 3 year separation between the 2nd and 3rd made for a more difficult sleep set up for the 3rd since of course the first 2 would want less sleep and the 3rd was all too glad to help that cause. We would enforce 10 hours a night according to lots of sources I had read, and it was successful most of the time, but not always easy to attain.
Anyway, we went out and bought a simple, dark brown, thick curtain to go over the blinds, and put it up to block out all of the street light. Within just a few days, the changes floored me. Our 3rd who seemed overwhelmed a lot of the time, and more apt to have tantrums and shut down faster, as well as having some communication issues, was all of a sudden more patient, communicating better and not as fast to tantrums. Much more smiles! As the days went further, we saw more changes. He seemed to mature 2 years in a couple weeks. We hadn't changed anything else.
We were thrilled with this and it made me think about all the parents I had talked to in my practice about these very issues for years. I’m not trying to trivialize behavior or processing problems and certainly it isn’t always just this simple. It’s also not the same for every child, however, having been as interested in helping parents and kids with the effects of sleep, diet, and exercise on behavior/processing as I have been for years, this excited me and I wanted to share my experience with other parents.
My reading supports this change:
According to Dr. Vincent Ianelli, M.D. from About.com Pediatrics: "Experts are recognizing that not getting enough sleep can have significant effects on children. In addition to appearing sleepy, they may have a short attention span, be hyperactive, or irritable. People should sleep in the dark or in a dimly lit room. The reason is that melatonin, a natural hormone that our body produces and which helps stimulate our going to sleep, can be inhibited by light."
If the behavioral part doesn’t worry you enough, chronic exposure to light can cause health consequences too. Researcher Joshua Gooley, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston supports that concept. "Given that chronic light suppression of melatonin has been hypothesized to increase relative risk for some types of cancer and that melatonin receptor genes have been linked to type 2 diabetes, our findings could have important health implications." Gooley says.
It may seem, like a "no brainer" to provide enough sleep for your kids, like we were trying to do, but when there is light in the room either accidentally or a bright night light, it seems it can contribute to some troublesome things.
Many parents ask me about the child who is afraid to go to sleep in the dark? My suggestion would be what we used to do when it came to night lights. We would have them on until everyone was asleep and then turn them off. It was painless.
I would love to hear your comments and stories of change below if something like this works for you ...
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How have you helped your child's processing today?