How Nighttime Screen Use
Affects Your Kids
Smartphones, laptops, even Rokus provide access to a seemingly unlimited amount of information. Technology may be an integral part of your child’s life, but there is a downside that can interfere with both academic and social success. Screen time before bed can disrupt your child’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Lack of sleep can compromise your child’s physical, emotional, and mental health, so it's important for you to understanc the effects of nighttime screen use on your kids.
Circadian Rhythms and Sleep Cycles
A healthy sleep-wake cycle actually starts with light. As sunlight filters through the Earth’s atmosphere, it becomes blue spectrum light. Blue light and sleep have an interconnected relationship because the human eye has special photoreceptors that absorb blue light and send signals directly to the circadian region of the brain.
Circadian rhythms, the natural 24-hour cycles that the body uses to control everything from your meal timing and appetite to cell regeneration, sync the sleep-wake cycle to match the day/night schedule created by the Earth’s rotation. Ample amounts of blue light, like that experienced in the morning, suppress sleep hormones. As the sun goes down, blue light levels go down and sleep hormones flood the body’s systems. With blue light, timing is everything.
Nighttime Screen Use
The sun isn’t the only source of blue light. Electronic devices like smartphones, e-readers, laptops, and television screens emit blue light that’s similar enough in spectrum to sunlight that they suppress sleep hormones. Using these devices within two to three hours of bedtime can delay the onset of sleep.
However, it’s not just the blue light of the devices that gets in the way of adequate sleep. A literature review published in JAMA Pediatrics in 2016 found that both the use of and the temptation of access to a device, even if it’s not used, affects sleep. Children who used devices or had access to devices at bedtime slept less, had a harder time falling asleep, and experienced more daytime sleepiness. This lack of sleep can be seen in their decision-making skills, emotional stability, and, more severe cases, their physical growth and development.
How to Develop Healthy Nighttime Tech Habits
Technology isn’t bad, but the use of devices should be monitored and timed to help kids sleep better. After creating a healthy sleep environment, that’s one that’s cool, dark, and quiet, you can try:
- Turning Devices Off Early in the Evening: It’s time to shut off devices two to three hours before bedtime. Reduced exposure to bright blue light allows the body to stay in sync with its circadian rhythms.
- Removing High-Efficiency (HE) Light Bulbs from Bedrooms: HE bulbs emit blue light too. They work great in the kitchen and living room where you spend most of your daylight hours, but in the bedroom, they can disrupt the sleep cycle. Opt for incandescent bulbs, which pose less of a hazard to the sleep cycle because their light lands in the red spectrum.
- Checking the Settings of Your Devices: Some devices come with a low light or low blue light setting. You can use this setting to reduce blue light exposure before bed. However, exposure to any bright light has the potential to disrupt sleep so you may still want to limit screen time in the evening.
- Keeping Devices Out of the Bedroom: Your kids may protest to having their smartphone or iPad left outside the bedroom. However, the less nighttime access kids have the better they tend to sleep.
In a high-tech world, we are faced with the challenge of teaching our children to use technology responsibly. As you work with your child, she can come to learn how to monitor her own use and that her health always comes before screen time.
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Recommended Reading for Techie Homeschool Moms:
The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in ItsHands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone,Hands Free Life: Nine Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better,Parenting in the Age of Attention Snatchers: A Step-by-Step GuideApps All Parents Should Know
This post was written by Stacey L. Nash, a Seattle area writer for Tuck.com, whose insomnia led her to research all aspects of sleep. With a degree in communications from the University of Puget Sound, she helps put sleep into the forefront of the health and wellness conversation. When not researching and writing about sleep, she spends time with her husband and four children on their heavily-wooded, twelve-acre piece of heaven.
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