Research shows that North Americans are sleeping less today than they were in decades previous. When living our media-dependent, activity-filled lives, sleep can sometimes end up an afterthought.
“We need to think of sleep as part of a triangle of health, equal in importance to healthy eating and an active lifestyle,” explains Penny Corkum, associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Dr. Corkum, cross-appointed in Psychiatry and Pediatrics and also scientific staff with the IWK Health Centre, is an expert in pediatric sleep. She’s the leader of a CIHR national team grant, bringing together researchers from across Canada to develop web-based interventions for children struggling with behavioural sleep problems – tools that will help parents and their children have better nights and, in turn, better days.
With World Sleep Day coming up — Friday, March 16 — it’s worth asking questions about what happens when we don’t get the sleep our bodies need.
One study that Dr. Corkum and her students have undertaken involved restricting or extending the sleep of typically-developing children by an hour each night to assess how it might limit their daytime function. The result was that even after three nights, the team could find evidence for impairment: changes in attention, emotional regulation, more behavioural challenges. Those results are similar to studies for adults.
“A lot of people think of sleep as a time when nothing happens, because we’re ‘offline,’” says Dr. Corkum. “But lots of things are happening: memories are being consolidated, learning happens, hormones are being released. It’s not active from a conscious perspective, but it’s like the processing that happens offline in a computer – it’s needed to run the machine efficiently.”
It also can have an impact on children’s ability to manage pain. Dr. Christine Chambers, a pediatric psychologist with both Dalhousie and the IWK Health Centre, has done “cold presser” tests, where participants place their hand in cold water to assess their reaction, comparing teenagers given an optimized night’s sleep with those whose sleep was randomized.
“The teens who had restricted sleep took their hand out of the water sooner and showed more pain, and that’s consistent with a growing body of evidence that sleep can affect pain,” says Dr. Chambers, whose findings are particularly relevant to children dealing with chronic pain. “Sometimes, just by improving sleep, children can improve their pain management.”
Dr. Chambers explains that while working at a sleep clinic for children, she noticed “just how pervasive sleep problems are in children. But there really are simple and effective strategies [to address these] that can have a dramatic effect.”
Some of those strategies are things that may seem self-evident: having a consistent bedtime; making sure that children have a dark room; that they avoid television, computers or mobile devices just before bed; and that they be given an opportunity to fall asleep on their own.
Sometimes, these are easier said than done, though.
“Parents tend to do things that work and make sense to them in the short term – things like getting into bed with your child to help them get to sleep,” explains Dr. Aimee Coulombe, a postdoctoral fellow working with Dr. Corkum. “In the short term, everyone gets to sleep quicker, but these can lead to problems with the child being able to fall asleep on their own in the long term.”
For children who are having trouble sleeping, the best thing parents can do is to adopt strategies that ease children away from dependencies like parental accompaniment, media devices, etc. and towards self-reliance when falling asleep.
It also comes back to prioritizing sleep as part of the daily routine – a message of particular importance to university students, because of the relationship between sleep and learning.
“You see university students trying to pull all-nighters, sacrificing sleep in an attempt to study, but it’s sleep that’s going to consolidate that information for them, and will help them retain it,” she says. “You can’t study effectively without a good night’s sleep.”
Charles Crosby | Newswise Science News
A new approach to targeting cancer cells
20.05.2019 | University of California - Riverside
Radioisotope couple for tumor diagnosis and therapy
14.05.2019 | Kanazawa University
Engineers at the University of Tokyo continually pioneer new ways to improve battery technology. Professor Atsuo Yamada and his team recently developed a...
With a quantum coprocessor in the cloud, physicists from Innsbruck, Austria, open the door to the simulation of previously unsolvable problems in chemistry, materials research or high-energy physics. The research groups led by Rainer Blatt and Peter Zoller report in the journal Nature how they simulated particle physics phenomena on 20 quantum bits and how the quantum simulator self-verified the result for the first time.
Many scientists are currently working on investigating how quantum advantage can be exploited on hardware already available today. Three years ago, physicists...
'Quantum technologies' utilise the unique phenomena of quantum superposition and entanglement to encode and process information, with potentially profound benefits to a wide range of information technologies from communications to sensing and computing.
However a major challenge in developing these technologies is that the quantum phenomena are very fragile, and only a handful of physical systems have been...
Working group led by physicist Professor Ulrich Nowak at the University of Konstanz, in collaboration with a team of physicists from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, demonstrates how skyrmions can be used for the computer concepts of the future
When it comes to performing a calculation destined to arrive at an exact result, humans are hopelessly inferior to the computer. In other areas, humans are...
Scientists develop a molecular recording tool that enables in vivo lineage tracing of embryonic cells
The beginning of new life starts with a fascinating process: A single cell gives rise to progenitor cells that eventually differentiate into the three germ...
29.04.2019 | Event News
17.04.2019 | Event News
15.04.2019 | Event News
21.05.2019 | Materials Sciences
21.05.2019 | Materials Sciences
21.05.2019 | Life Sciences