Bright lights and bedtime don’t mix

On the heels of yesterday’s discussion about the mass sleep deprivation that’s plaguing America’s children, I thought I’d bring this week full-circle by expounding on a piece of advice I offered to parents yesterday.

You must shut off bright lights at bedtime. And if you’re wondering why, there’s a recent study you’ll be interested in hearing about.

As part of this experiment, researchers enrolled 10 healthy preschoolers between the ages of three and five in a week-long sleep protocol. Over the first five days, the kids were put on a strict bedtime schedule to normalize their circadian rhythms and ensure consistent nightly increases in melatonin — the hormone that tells your body it’s time to go to sleep.

On the sixth day, the research team created a dim-light environment in each child’s home — blacking out windows and using low-wattage bulbs — to ensure equal light exposure for each subject. This was critical because darkness triggers melatonin release.

The team took regular saliva samples to measure the kids’ melatonin levels. And on the next evening, after a period spent in controlled darkness, they sat the children down at a light table — with the lux equivalent of a bright room — to play for one hour.

The researchers took melatonin samples again. And they found that bright light exposure lowered melatonin levels by 88 percent. And this suppression continued for an hour, or more, even after the light was turned off.

Obviously, this isn’t a large study. But it’s important because while research has shown that bright lights at bedtime impact adult sleep, there is very little out there about the effect it has on young children.

What we do know is that light appears to have an even more powerful effect on melatonin in children — partly due to the structural differences of young eyes, like larger pupils and more transparent lenses. (Similar studies on adults have shown that light stimulus 10 times brighter suppressed melatonin levels by only 39 percent. A vast difference, that’s for sure.)

So if tablets, TVs, and other common sources of pre-bedtime light make it harder for you to get to sleep, you can imagine what it’s doing to your child…

And unfortunately, that’s not all a dip in melatonin may be doing. In fact, sleep disturbances are just the tip of the iceberg where melatonin is concerned. This hormone also plays a role in regulating blood pressure and glucose metabolism. And that’s just for starters.

The bottom line: When bedtime rolls around, lights out should mean just that — lights out.

I discuss more about how melatonin levels affect your overall health and also offer up drug-free solutions for a deeper, more refreshing sleep night after night in my Perfect Sleep Protocol. You can find out more about this online learning tool or enroll today by clicking here.