Monday, November 23, 2015

Could brushing your teeth in the dark help you sleep?

A neuroscientist recently made an interesting claim: that brushing our teeth in the dark could lead to better sleep. While this in itself is not exactly a dental issue, it brings up important questions about sleep quality and its effect on our overall health - yes, including our dental health.

According to a recent article from The Telegraph, a UK-based news source, an Oxford University professor claimed that bright bathroom lights can stimulate the body and interrupt our natural circadian rhythm.

Russell Foster, professor of circadian neuroscience at Oxford claims the bright lights signal the body to become more alert, right at the time when the body should be winding down and preparing for a good night's rest.

"Sleep is the single most important behaviour that we do," said Foster. "Across our lifespans 36 per cent of our life will be spent sleeping."

Foster went on to explain that the common practice of turning lights in the home down at night is a good method for aiding the body in its preparation for sleep; however, once people go into the bathroom to brush their teeth, the bright fluorescent lights go on, and the body is back in alert mode.

"That is very disrupting," said Foster. "I often think someone should invent a bathroom mirror light which has a different setting for night-time."

But what's the big deal? Why is sleep so important, anyway?

According to researchers, medical practitioners and circadian neurosciences like Professor Foster, sleep is vitally important. We tend to think of sleep as a time of pure rest and inactivity, but in reality, our bodies are using this time to clear toxins, repair tissues, replace energy and restore metabolic pathways. Indeed sleep is actually a busy time for our bodies' systems. It's the time when our bodies get rest, but also get restored.

Lack of good sleep can have several negative outcomes, affecting a variety of systems in the body, including our metabolic system, digestive system and circulatory system. Lack of sleep has been known to reduce cognition and creativity as well as suppress the immune system and raise the risk of diabetes, obesity, cancer and mental illness.

How Sleep Affects Dental Health

Dental health can also be linked to our sleep patterns and vice versa.

For example, if you grind your teeth at night, not only could this be undermining your body's ability to have completely restful sleep, but it could also lead to long term damage to your teeth.

Likewise, if you're not getting proper sleep, this can lead to additional stress throughout the day, an overall feeling of lethargy and a weaker immune system. When this happens, it's not uncommon for people to develop canker sores and gum disease, as well as clench their jaw. As you can see, it becomes a vicious cycle where lack of sleep causes dental problems and the dental problems make it harder to achieve normal, restful sleep.

To avoid this scenario, make sure you are staying on top of your routine dental hygiene tasks as well as visiting your dentist for regular cleanings and check ups. Also, if you're feeling stressed, try to find healthy activities to bring your stress level down. Going for walks, meditating, or working with your hands are a few good ideas.

And, just for fun, why not give Professor Foster's idea a try and start brushing your teeth in the dark? Just install a small night light in your bathroom and concentrate on your brushing, making sure to do it properly and for at least 2-3 minutes.

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