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by Health By Principle

Healthy Sleep Habits for Back to School


By Rachel Welch 


The back-to-school season can be hectic, with school supply shopping, re-acclimating to busy morning routines, and after-school activities commencing once more. Amidst the blur of back-to-school excitement comes the potential for new germs, sickness, and stress to enter the home. The changes in stress levels and exposure to new people have the potential to wreak havoc on our immune systems. From rushing through quick meals to neglecting exercise to save time, health can often take a backseat in favor of daily to-do lists.  


In addition to staying committed to a healthy vitamin and supplement regimen, it is also important to prioritize your greatest tool – sleep. Sleep is, as they say, your superpower and should be treated with the utmost care and prioritization. From increasing your immunity to boosting your emotional well-being, sleep is simply a necessity. This is why we will dive into some of the healthiest sleep habits for easing you and your family back to school with a healthy routine. While classes and extracurricular schedules may seem overwhelming, they don’t have to come with a side of sleep deprivation. Here are some tips and tools to help ensure restful and productive sleep for you and your family, no matter what the days may throw at you.  


Sleep Hygiene Basics 


First, it is important to have awareness of basic sleep hygiene principles. Sleep hygiene refers to a set of practices and habits that promote healthy and restorative sleep. It plays a crucial role in maintaining overall well-being and cognitive function. Here are some basic principles and tips for good sleep hygiene: 


  1. Consistent Sleep Schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps regulate your body's internal clock, making it easier to fall asleep and wake up. Supposedly, this goes back to the days when humans would wake and sleep with nature’s daily light cycles. So, in a way, you can think of this as getting back to the basics and giving the lizard part of your brain a familiar little practice and routine. 


  1. Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine: Establish calming activities before sleep, such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing. If you’re cramped for time, five minutes of some light stretching can make a positive impact. Meditation is also a great tool to help your brain and body wind down before sleep. Remember that it is best to avoid stimulating activities like watching TV or using electronic devices right before bedtime.


  1. Comfortable Sleep Environment: Ensure your bedroom is conducive to sleep. Keep it dark, quiet, cool, and invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows. Research has shown that even the tiniest amount of light in your sleep space can impair your sleep quality drastically and potentially even increase your risk of depression, so it could be beneficial to use blackout curtains and earplugs if necessary. Additionally, studies have found that our activities in our bedroom tend to program our brains to prepare for the same things repeatedly. In fact, one expert said that when you work in bed, you almost convince your brain to begin brainstorming and creating when you are there. By engaging in work mode in your bedroom, your brain thinks about what’s supposed to happen when you’re back in the same environment for bedtime. So, if you engage in behaviors like working on your bed or eating on your bed, you could be sending your brain confusing signals.  


  1. Limit Exposure to Screens: The blue light emitted by phones, tablets, and computers can interfere with your sleep-wake cycle. The nature of artificial blue light interacts with our brains in the same way that sunlight does. When we expose ourselves to screens before bed, it’s almost the same as exposing ourselves to a sunny afternoon and then trying to get our bodies to feel sleepy. Try to avoid screens at least an hour before bedtime.


  1. Watch Your Diet: Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime. These substances can disrupt sleep patterns and make it harder to fall asleep because if your body is actively digesting your meal, it can’t rest yet. 


  1. Regular Physical Activity: Engage in regular exercise, but avoid vigorous workouts close to bedtime, which can boost energy. Exercise can promote better sleep but doing it too late in the evening can be too stimulating to encourage restful sleep.


  1. Manage Stress: Stress and anxiety can also hinder sleep. Practice relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga, to calm your mind before bedtime. Now that you are reminded of the importance of sleep hygiene let’s talk about some of the best tools to help ensure it stays in tip-top shape. 


For Adults: Sleep Aids or Supplements 


There are plenty of sleep aids on the market, some of which come with unpleasant and bizarre side effects (looking at you, Ambien). So, if you prefer the more holistic route to assisting your sleep, some of your best options are magnesium or melatonin. While both are highly beneficial from a health perspective, they help the body with sleep in different ways.  


Magnesium: This essential mineral is crucial in various bodily functions, including muscle and nerve function. Some studies suggest that magnesium may help improve sleep by regulating neurotransmitters influencing the sleep-wake cycle. Magnesium also has muscle-relaxing properties, which can aid in achieving a more restful sleep. It is generally considered safe and can be particularly useful for individuals with magnesium deficiencies. 


Melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the pineal gland in response to darkness. It plays a central role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle and is often used as a supplement to help manage sleep disorders, such as insomnia and jet lag. Melatonin is particularly effective for resetting the body's internal clock when dealing with shift work or travel-related sleep disruptions. It should be taken with caution, in appropriate doses, and under the guidance of a healthcare professional, as its effectiveness can vary among individuals. 


In summary, magnesium may be more suitable for individuals with magnesium deficiencies or those looking for a natural and gentle sleep aid. At the same time, melatonin is often preferred for addressing specific sleep disorders or adjusting to changes in sleep patterns.  


Make your bedroom exclusively for sleep 


Keeping your bedroom exclusively for sleep is essential for promoting healthy sleep patterns, and there is scientific evidence to support this practice. Here's why it's beneficial: 


Strengthening Sleep Associations: When you use your bedroom solely for sleep, you reinforce the association between the bedroom and rest. This conditioning helps your brain recognize that when you enter the bedroom, it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep. 


Enhancing Sleep Efficiency: By creating a sleep-conducive environment in your bedroom, with a comfortable mattress, minimal noise, and darkness, you optimize your chances of falling asleep faster and enjoying more restorative sleep. 


Minimizing Sleep Disruptions: Keeping the bedroom free from distractions and noise helps minimize disruptions during the night, allowing you to stay asleep longer and experience deeper sleep cycles. 


Improving Sleep Quality: The cumulative effect of these practices is improved sleep quality. Quality sleep is essential for physical and mental health, cognitive function, and overall well-being. Some research suggests that interrupted sleep can be just as detrimental as a significantly shorter sleep time. So, anything you can do to enhance your quality of sleep while reducing sleep disturbances or distractions will be beneficial.   


For Kids: 


Back-to-school season can be just as hard on the youngest members of the family as it is on the adults. While society may tend to overlook the potential consequences of younger family members’ sleep habits, we should consider that they may also need help with building healthy sleep routines. They also may have just as much to lose or gain, if not more. Developmentally, children undergo massive and important changes in their first five years of life. This is also a time when children tend to transition into school for the first time, and it can come with a hefty helping of new stressors, both positive and negative. With new classes to navigate, new social dynamics, teachers, and lessons, sleep can sometimes be just as difficult to come by for a child as it is for their guardians.  


Research has shown that sleep is directly correlated to a child’s mental and physical health, just like it is for adults. One study in particular found that with more sleep deprivation and less sleep quality, a child’s demonstration of depressive symptoms increased. A separate 2022 study examined three different measures of children’s sleep time, with the children ranging around pre-K to Kindergarten age. They assessed how many hours the children slept over the course of a seven-day period and found that, undoubtedly, the sleep hygiene and regularity of a child’s sleep pattern have a profound impact on their overall ability to transition into a new class or routine smoothly.   


Luckily, increased awareness is being brought to parents and school systems about the importance of sleep hygiene, not just for adults but for children of all ages and even young adults. Further research continues to emerge surrounding healthy sleep education programs and how to better instruct children to care for their sleep and, ultimately, their health.  


How to Set Habits for Your Kids 


First and foremost, children look up to adults, whether they admit it or not. Acting as small sponges, children, and even teens can absorb and copy behaviors that are modeled for them. Therefore, it is important to lead by example. By prioritizing your sleep hygiene, you are modeling good sleep habits for your kids to pick up on. Additionally, you can engage in dialogue with them about why sleep is helpful and how it can help their body and mind grow. Just like the adage about Popeye and his spinach giving him muscles, parents can spin the benefits of sleep into something both fun and meaningful that has the potential to set a strong foundation.  


So, whether you choose to glamorize your bedroom and invest in new bedding, buy a sleep mask to block out environmental light, or aim for a more regimented sleep routine, you will make meaningful strides toward better sleep hygiene. From there, back-to-school season and the seasons following will gradually become less daunting and more manageable.  


As always, remember to prioritize balance in your health journey for both you and your school-going family members. Remember to incorporate movement, healthy eating, ample hydration, and nutrition into your daily list of priorities. Sleep is a valuable and healing tool that can be used to smooth out even the rockiest of transitions. With proper sleep hygiene, healthy habits, and a clear lesson to your younger family members on its importance, back-to-school season will be a breeze.  


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