When you were little and went to the beach for the day did you come home exhausted? Did your mum tell you it was the ‘sea air’ that made you feel so tired? She wasn’t quite right – it was the daylight.
I’ve just finished reading Tom Watson’s book ‘Downsizing’, a really good read about how he reversed his type 2 diabetes and cured his sugar addiction. One quote leapt out at me as I was reading last night: Tom was talking to Andrew Denton, the CEO of the Outdoors Industries Association. Andrew told him that ‘three quarters of kids in the UK spend less time outdoors than high security prisoners’. Just let that sink in.
Anyone who has attended one of my courses or one to one sessions knows that I am really enthusiastic about getting outside in the daylight every day. Not because I am a fitness fanatic, but because sunlight is more important for good sleep than darkness!
Bear with me – I know that the accepted wisdom is having a dark bedroom but that is not always the case for some people with sensory processing dysfunction (a whole other topic for another post ). No – the reason that light is so important is that it resets our body clock, (our circadian rhythm) every day. If we get lots of daylight during the first half of the day then the contrast when the sun goes down is more noticeable. Our brain knows where we are in the 24 hour cycle. The suprachiasmatic nucleus in the brain regulates our circadian rhythm and is utterly dependent on getting daylight to do so. Modern life - school, work, gaming, means we get far less daylight than our brain needs.
I learned a lot of this from a wonderful speaker called Professor Russell Foster who is the head of the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology and the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute in Oxford. He noticed that in the past, people who were blind had had their eyes removed because they were considered to be redundant. Instantly their sleep deteriorated – their eyes may not have been able to see, but they still sent important messages to the brain about whether it was light or dark outside through special cells called photo sensitive retinal ganglion cells.
One of the parents that I worked with said that taking her son for a 30 minute walk everyday made more of a difference to the quality of his sleep than anything else.
I know it is hard to drag our kids away from their social media and their gaming but if you can, get them outside for at least 30 minutes every day, preferably in the morning, they will sleep better for it 😊