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Smartphones, Tablets May Lower Kids’ Sleep Hormone

Finding suggests use of electronic devices before bedtime could delay slumber

By Alan Mozes     HealthDay Reporter     WebMD News from HealthDay

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 2, 2015 (HealthDay News) – New research offers a compelling reason for parents to ban smartphones, tablets and laptops in their children’s bedrooms at night: The bright light of these devices may lower levels of melatonin, a hormone that prompts sleep.

The effect was most pronounced for kids just entering puberty, with nighttime melatonin levels suppressed by up to 37 percent in some cases, the investigators found.

With a recent study suggesting that 96 percent of teens use at least one high-tech device in the hour before bedtime, the researchers have a suggestion for parents.

“The message is that we really have to be careful about protecting our especially young teens from light at night, which means parents need to get all screens out of the bedroom, because ultimately they can be quite damaging to a child’s capacity to get enough sleep,” said study co-author Mary Carskadon. She is a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School, in Providence, R.I.

Puberty and changing sleep habits go hand-in-hand, the study authors noted, as growing kids start to push for later bedtimes.

To some degree, the shift is likely prompted by several social factors, including the loosening of parental restrictions, budding friendships and media. But scientists believe that biological factors also play a role, as a child’s internal sleep clock starts to change.

At the heart of that change is light sensitivity, said Carskadon, who’s also director of the Sleep and Chronobiology Research Laboratory at the E.P. Bradley Hospital. Her team theorized that puberty increases a child’s sensitivity to light at night, causing melatonin levels to stay low and delay sleep.

But the researchers also suspected this natural process could be knocked out of whack when newly light-sensitive children are around the bright glare of modern technology.

So the study authors focused on 38 children between the ages of 9 and 15 (early puberty), along with 29 boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 16 (later or post-puberty).

For four nights, all were exposed to a single hour of light, involving four different brightness levels. Brightness levels ranged from near-dark “romantic restaurant lighting” all the way up to what Carskadon called “light you would find in the produce section of your favorite large supermarket.”

The exposures occurred either at 11 p.m. or 3 a.m., the authors said.

The result: While melatonin readings were uniform during the early morning light tests, late-night light tests caused much greater melatonin suppression among boys and girls at the earliest stages of puberty.


In that group, dim “mood” lighting suppressed melatonin by more than 9 percent, while “normal” room light triggered a 26 percent dip and “bright” light prompted a 37 percent plunge. Overall, older teens saw much smaller drops in melatonin levels, the study found.

The study did not prove that bright light before bedtime causes adolescents to get less sleep, however.

“We cannot say we found a sleep ‘disturbance,'” Carskadon said. “But what we did find was that young children exposed to light at bedtime saw their melatonin production suppressed. And this could cause sleep rhythms to be affected in a way that causes children to stay up later, which is exactly what adolescents need not to be doing.”

Dr. Jim Pagel, director of Rocky Mountain Sleep in Pueblo, Col., agreed with the finding.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “At puberty onset, the circadian pattern is very unstable and very sensitive to light. So the problems they’re finding make sense.”

That opinion was seconded by Kelly Baron, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

“This study didn’t actually test how light affected sleep itself, but it did find that it causes a problem on the pathway to sleep by suppressing melatonin,” Baron said.

“At the same time, other studies have consistently shown that electronics in the bedroom are detrimental to sleep for both parents and kids, frankly, which means we all really should be thinking about ways to limit our exposure to electronics, and light in general, before we go to bed,” Baron said.

The study findings were published online recently in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

SOURCES: Mary Carskadon, Ph.D., professor, psychiatry and human behavior, Alpert Medical School, Brown University, and director, Bradley Hospital Sleep and Chronobiology Research Laboratory, E.P. Bradley Hospital, East Providence, R.I.; Jim Pagel, M.D., associate clinical professor, University of Colorado Medical School System, and director, Rocky Mountain Sleep, Pueblo, Colo.; Kelly Baron, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor, neurology, and director, behavioral sleep medicine program, department of neurology, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago; Aug. 26, 2015, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism

source: www.webmd.com

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3 Simple and Effective Ways to Stress Less

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” – Buddha

Encountering stressful situations on a daily basis is a near certainty. We’re overworked, overscheduled and unrested. We’re connected, distracted, and unsettled. These stressors don’t just vanish without a trace – negatively affecting your physical, mental and emotional functions.

Quite simply, stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. Stress is a normal – even positive – part of life. For example, when we procrastinate and our minds continually reiterate the importance of completing a task. This is an example of how stress is healthy for us.

However, stress can become negative – really negative. The medical and scientific communities actually have a term for this type of stress: distress. Distress can manifest itself in various ways – headaches, nausea, stomachache, irritability, trouble sleeping, high blood pressure, etc. Over the long term, this can lead to various types of diseases.

Distress is a common complaint in our society. Consider these statistics:

  •  75-90% of all doctor visits are stress-related illnesses or complaints.
  •  43% of all adults suffer stress-related health effects.
  •  50% of all lifelong emotional disorders are related to stress.

These are exorbitantly high numbers. Up to 90% of all doctor visits are stress-related? Don’t fret, my friend…we’re going to give you some great pointers here.

In fact, here are 3 key things you can do right now to handle stress:

1. Take time away from tech

“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.” – Buddha

Do you ever notice how insatiable our appetites are for technology? Phones, tablets, tablets that look like phones, phones that look like tablets, a robot that reminds you where your cell phone or is…okay, I made that last one up. I think.

Technology can be a true force for good – educational, medical and scientific communities have all benefitted from the tech revolution. People have become more connected with both positive and negative outcomes. We’re more connected with our families, friends, and distant relatives. On the other hand, we’re also more distracted and less mindful.

According to a study at University of Gothenburg, heavy use of mobile phones and other electronic devices can potentially affect mental health. The study, consisting of 4,100 people aged 20-24 revealed the following:

  • Increased sleeping problems in men.
  • Increased depressive symptoms in both men and women.
  • Other precursors to mental health problems.

Many negative outcomes from technology overuse can be attributed to instant gratification. Facebook, email, video chat, games, and texting are all available at the tap of a finger. Make no mistake – technology can and should be enjoyed. In moderation, that is.

Do yourself a favor and disconnect the devices from time to time. Turn off the tablet, phone, or computer and get some fresh air. Take in and remember how good it feels to immerse yourself into something else – meditate, read, nap, or anything else.

2. Connect with nature

“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” – Buddha

Not so long ago – about 150,000 to 200,000 years – human beings lived outside… in nature. We were born among our animal relatives and stayed among them until we died. We built shelter, hunted animals, cooked food and raised children in the elements.

Our distant ancestors were probably tree dwellers in some form. Now it doesn’t seem anyone is interested in trees unless we are deforesting some part of the country. Think of that: Nature gave human beings everything needed to build and sustain life, and we pay it back by uprooting a forest to build a mall.

connecting with nature

Anyways, enough with the lecture on man’s irresponsible use of Nature’s resources. The real point I was trying to make: reconnect with nature. Take in its vastness; its beauty. Nature is truly a wonderful and diverse ecosystem.

Consider the benefits of just the sun:

– Sun rays kill bacteria on the skin.
– Sunlight lowers cholesterol.
– Sun rays lower blood pressure.
– Sunlight penetrates the skin to purify both blood and blood vessels.
– Sunlight improves oxygen circulation in the body.
– Sunlight strengthens the immune system.
– Sunlight can increase the physical development of children; namely growth and height.
– Sun exposure can reduce or cure depression (staying inside too much initiates or prolongs it!)

3. Breathe/Meditate

“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present I know that this is the only moment.” – Buddha

Breathe or meditate – in fact, do both. There’s a practice devoted to just that – breathing and meditating –mindfulness meditation.

When getting right down to it, mindfulness meditation is very simple. You sit or lie in a comfortable position, pay attention to the breath, and when the mind wanders you gently bring it back to the breath. Simple in theory, quite another in practice – but you’ll learn quickly and see tremendous benefits as a result.

So why practice mindfulness meditation? Consider a Buddhist health study done at Northern Arizona University. Dr. Heidi Wayment and her colleagues surveyed 866 Buddhist practitioners form around the world and discovered five key benefits of the practice.

  1. Mindfulness meditation “strengthened the immune and physiological responses to stress and negative emotion.” (Read and re-read! This is perhaps the biggest health benefit)
  2. It “improved the social relationships with family and strangers.”
  3. It “reduced stress, depression, and anxiety and increased well-being and happiness.”
  4. It “increased openness to experience, conscientiousness, and agreeableness and reduced negative associations with neuroticism.”
  5. It “led to greater psychological mindfulness, which included an awareness that is clear, nonconceptual, and flexible; a practical stance toward reality; and present attention to the individual’s consciousness and awareness.”

Dr. Wayment had this to say on the findings of the study:

“One of the surprising findings of this study and what some others are coming up with is how much of a difference it makes to focus your mind and calm down. It actually makes a large difference in your well-being.”

What is striking about this statement is that these benefits shouldn’t be “surprising” in the least. The Buddha discussed this in detail roughly 2,500 years ago! His practices have been meticulously documented, passed down and taught throughout the generations. The scientific and medical community, in study after study, continues to learn the tremendous benefits of Buddha’s ancient wisdom – from enlarging areas of the brain to preventing diseases and illnesses.