This article previously ran in the Q3 2023 issue of A2Zzz.
The light of the day turns to night, and children and adults throughout the US don their costumes — this can only mean one thing: Halloween is here! Primarily celebrated in the United States, for many people, Halloween is a time that we party together with themes such as ghosts, witches, pumpkins, fantasy and more. Some will break out the popcorn and watch their traditional scary movie or horror film and thoroughly indulge in sugary treats of all kinds. While the Halloween holiday brings excitement and fun for those who celebrate, it can also bring with it the possibility of sleep disruption and poor sleep hygiene that might haunt you for many days to come.
Frightening Sleep Schedules
To knock on the door of Halloween's effects of sleep, let’s look closer at sleep deprivation. Though the holiday is only one night, it often lands in the middle of the week, which is not ideal for sleep schedules. A delayed sleep schedule is found to negatively affect daily function and can cause one to have difficulty with concentrating, fatigue and sleepiness.¹ Halloween traditions, such as trick-or-treating, and parties often go late into the night — cutting our sleep time short and sleep deprivation to ensues. Even more so, many school schedules start early the next morning, which can lead to impairment in cognition and function in children.²
On Halloween, and even the nights leading up to it, many will turn to watching scary movies to get in the mood for the holiday. What they don’t consider is how watching the movie(s), whether that be via a television or mobile device, all day and late into the night can have scary impacts on their sleep schedule.
There are countless studies analyzing the use of media during the day and electronic devices prior to bed and their impact on sleep. Sleep questionnaires in one research study revealed impacts that included sleep-onset latency, nightmares, frequent nighttime arousals, difficulty waking in the morning and daytime somnolence, and said study found these impacts highly correlated to the media that was viewed the previous day.³ Additional findings in research show that the younger a child consuming the media is, the more severe the sleep disturbances are at night.4
Can one movie really have long term effects on sleep for young children and adults? From Jaws to Poltergeist, scary movies are known to cause nightmares, phobias and fears — which can have effect many years from the initial time of viewing.5 In addition to these possible impacts, we are also exposed to blue light, which can keep you awake or be deleterious on quality of sleep.6
Seasonal Food and Candy
With Halloween comes the influx of sweet treats, especially candy. What many don’t realize is that the ghoulish indulgence of sugar during the holiday is directly related to poor sleep.7 Eating junk food affects consumers systemically with regard to the piriform cortex in the brain (the part that serves a key role in odor discrimination and the perception of odor) being correlated to a desire to eat more.8 In eating more junk food, consumers are taking in more and more caffeine, something that is commonly found in chocolate bars, even the minisized ones. Adding to this, the discovery by Ahuwalia et al.9 who noted that most children 12 years of age and older are more prone to drinking and eating caffeinated foods and drinks — leading to heightened instances of insomnia. We know that caffeine has a half-life of about 4-6 hours,10 making insomnia prevail well into the night after trick-or-treating hours are over.
Enjoying Halloween in Moderation
After reviewing Halloween and its impact, it is evident that the holiday can have deleterious effects on sleep. And while it's tough to pinpoint which repercussion noted above has the biggest impact on a sleep schedule, there are ways to enjoy the holiday in moderation so that sleep schedules are not severely impacted. A few tips to consider when enjoying the Halloween holiday. First, remember to maintain a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and waking at a regular time. Second, limit viewing scary media — especially for young children — as it can cause nightmares or sleep disturbances. Finally, be cognizant of sugar and caffeine intake, which can lead to insomnia. In all these, moderation is key. Take care, and happy haunting.
- Chorney DB, Detweiler MF, Morris TL, Kuhn BR. The Interplay of Sleep Disturbance, Anxiety and Depression in Children. Journal of Pediatric Psychology. 2008;33(4):339-348. https://doi.org/10.1093/jpepsy/jsm105
- Kang JH & Chen SC. Effects of an irregular bedtime schedule on sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, and fatigue among university students in Taiwan. BMC Public Health. 2009; 9(1):248-253. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-9-248
- Garrison MM, Liekweg K & Christakis DA. Media Use and Child Sleep: The Impact of Content, Timing, and Environment. Pediatrics. 2011;128(1):29-35. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2010-3304
- Dibben, GO et al. Adolescents’ interactive electronic device use, sleep and mental health: a systematic review of prospective studies. Journal of Sleep Research. 2023; e13899. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsr.13899
- Cantor J, Byrne S, Moyer-Gusé E & Riddle K. Descriptions of Media-Induced Fright Reactions in a Sample of US Elementary School Children. Journal of Children and Media. 2010;4(1):1-17. https://doi.org/10.1080/17482790903407242
- Münch, M et al. Blue-Enriched Morning Light as a Countermeasure to Light at the Wrong Time: Effects on Cognition, Sleepiness, Sleep, and Circadian Phase. Neuropsychobiology. 2017;74(4): 207-218. https://doi.org/10.1159/000477093
- Alahmary, SA et al. Relationship Between Added Sugar Intake and Sleep Quality Among University Students: A Crosssectional Study. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2019;16(1), 122–129. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827619870476
- Stevenson, RJ. Olfactory perception, cognition, and dysfunction in humans. WIREs Cognitive Science. 2013;4: 273-284. https://doi.org/10.1002/wcs.1224
- Ahluwalia N & Herrick K. Caffeine intake from food and beverage sources and trends among children and adolescents in the United States: Review of national quantitative studies from 1999 to 2011. Advances in Nutrition. 2015;6(1):102-111. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.114.007401
- Evatt, DP & Griffiths, RR. Caffeine. Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition. 2012; (Vol. 1-4, pp. 221-227). Elsevier Inc. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-375083-9.00033-7