Essentials: Melatonin Matters - How Sleep Chemistry Shapes Student Behaviour

Essentials: Melatonin Matters - How Sleep Chemistry Shapes Student Behaviour

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Sometimes it can be challenging to work out why certain pupils are unresponsive to our behaviour support strategies or display unpredictable behaviours from day to day.

In this Essentials episode, we explore the often-overlooked connection between sleep and behaviour. Join us as we explore strategies for healthier sleep patterns, enhancing a child's ability to regulate their emotions for a well-rested and happier classroom.

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan  0:00  

Are you supporting a student displaying challenging behaviour and trying to work out the triggers? Well, in this episode, we're going to look at one factor that often gets overlooked or is paid lip service to that has a huge impact on student behaviour. Welcome to the School Behaviour Secrets podcast.

Hi there, Simon Currigan here and welcome to another Essentials episode of School Behaviour Secrets where I share with you one important strategy or insight from an earlier episode that can have an impact the students that you work with in your school or your classroom. And in this Essentials episode, I'm going to share a section of a conversation that I had with my colleague Emma Shackleton, where we explore sleep and the impact it has on a child's ability to regulate and manage their own behavioueor. For instance, when we get too little sleep, it actually makes our amygdala much more sensitive, much more likely to be triggered. And as a result, we're much more likely to see threats and danger everywhere, and overreact to common everyday situations as a result. And too often, the impact of sleep is overlooked or swept under the carpet. And this omission can result in an increase in unwanted behaviours in the classroom, and us as teachers and adults using ineffectual support strategies want to know more? Well, here's my conversation with Emma. So let's kick off with thinking about sleep.

Emma Shackleton  2:06  

Sleep is so important. It impacts massively on our ability to regulate our emotions. I've actually got a set of pajamas with the slogan, sleep is the answer. And I've come to realize the wisdom in this statement. You see, our brain only has limited capacity for regulation. When we're mentally and physically drained we've got no resources left for dealing with emotions, processing and interpreting sensors, that kind of thing. Lack of quality sleep also affects retention, focus, resilience, and patience, really fundamental skills that we all need to be able to learn. Just think about the effects of poor sleep on us as adults, nobody performs their best when they are not rested and recharged. We all feel a little bit cranky and short tempered when we don't get good sleep.

Simon Currigan  3:00  

And the same is definitely true for children. What's interesting is that studies have shown that good quality sleep appears to be particularly important when kids brains are growing and developing and not getting the right sleep at those times can be associated with things like anxiety, or depression and aggression. There was a really interesting study that's bang up to date 2020, where researchers took a sample of 53 kids and then what they did was they restricted their sleep for a while. And then after that period of sleep restriction, they gave them a series of tasks to assess how that sleep deprivation had affected their ability to regulate and engage in a range of activities. And what they found was really interesting in the tasks where kids were asked to suppress their emotional response, sleep restriction negatively impacted on those children's ability to regulate their emotions, regulate their desires, and just deal with emotional arousal in general. But if you're a parent, I'm guessing you knew that already. Because you can get perfectly kind perfectly nice children who, when they're sleep deprived, turn into monsters, let's be honest. So sleep has a massive impact on kids ability to regulate and cope and manage their own behaviour.

Emma Shackleton  4:16  

So what we're seeing now is a whole generation of chronically underslept children and adults, it's kind of become the norm for us to sleep less as our habits have changed. And we live in a more round the clock on the go society filled with technology. And the interesting thing is many parents don't realize how much sleep their kids need. So what parents tend to do is compare with friends have a chat in the playgrounds, have a look on Facebook or in a kid's Whatsapp group. And when you're comparing with people around you who are like you, if they're also not getting enough sleep, that all feels kind of normal. This is a massive issue that often gets swept under the carpet.

Simon Currigan  4:58  

So let's have a little think about what why kids can't sleep. And one of the first things to talk about is screens. Okay? Kids are on screens much more than they ever used to be in the past. And there's a real issue here about how blue light affects melatonin production. So melatonin is the chemical that your brain produces when it's time to wind down and start to move into a sleep mode from an active mode during the day. Okay, so melatonin is the chemical that announces right, it's time for us to get ready for sleep. Now, when we were cavemen and we were wandering outside on the plains, we would only normally encounter blue light during the day. And then as we reached a sunset, we get red light. And then obviously in the night, there's darkness, what we have now is a situation where we have a sunset, things get darker. And what do we do, we turn on televisions, we turn on our phone screens, we open our laptops, and all those devices produce large amounts of blue light, and that stops us producing melatonin, it tricks our brain into thinking, Oh, it's daytime again. So our brains aren't producing melatonin when we need it. To help us get to sleep, those screens emitting blue light, even those devices that claim to have a wind down mode are still emitting lots of blue light, even things like Kindle produces lots of blue light, which affects melatonin production, which means you're going to physically find it harder to get to sleep because you don't have the right chemicals sloshing around your body.

Emma Shackleton  6:23  

And linked to that thinking about the screens that you've already mentioned, Simon is kids are playing video games much more now. And video games are intrinsically designed to be exciting and stimulating. Even if we manage to get the kids off the screens of an evening. They're frequently too excited to calm down. And also the law of gaming and social media interaction is available 24 hours now, thinking back to when I was little, there were cartoons and kids programs on TV for literally a couple of hours a day. And that was it. So cartoons finished and it was time to switch off and do something else. Nowadays, kids can watch TV or play video games with their friends or even with people across the world if they want to for literally hours and hours. Another issue that affects children getting to sleep is inconsistent bedtimes, these days, we live very fast paced lives. Often family life is very busy children might have clubs or activities that they're going to and from after school. And it can be difficult then to get a really consistent calming evening routine into place. And it leaves us with that constant feeling. It's like sleep jetlag if you like where we always feel a little bit groggy, a little bit tired from the over activity of the day before.

Simon Currigan  7:46  

And those routines are really important because if we have the same consistent routines every day that inform our body that it's time to slow down and relax. It gives our body cues that we're moving from this kind of active mode towards a more relaxed sleeping mode. What we need each day especially for younger children are the same routines, things like we have a bath time at seven o'clock, then we do story then we turn down lights, and then we have music or something like that the same activities in the same order highlights to your body, right, it's time for sleep now. And if we have a different routine every day, it's hard to have those routines in place. So children can't cue into those and realize it's time for sleep.

Emma Shackleton  8:29  

And if you're wondering what can be done to help children who really struggle to get to sleep, some can actually be prescribed melatonin in more extreme cases, frequently children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and sometimes autism, they might be on prescription to help them with their sleeping. If you're working with a child who's chronically under slept, you'll see that they are unlikely to make sustained progress until the underlying issue of the sleep is properly dealt with.

Simon Currigan  9:03  

And that's all we've got time for on this Essentials episode. If you would like to know two more factors that are often overlooked, which can trigger challenging behaviour in the classroom, then head back to Episode 29 to hear the full podcast. I definitely recommend that you do. If you've enjoyed listening today please remember to rate and review us It takes just 30 seconds and when you do, it prompts the algorithm to recommend School Behaviour Secrets to other listeners. And that helps us grow the podcast and reach other teachers, school leaders and parents. And while you've got your podcast app open, please remember to hit subscribe so you never miss another episode. Thanks for listening today and I look forward to seeing you next time on School Behaviour Secrets.

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)