Sleep is critically important for healthy young minds and the absence of it can be a problem
Sleep plays an important role in how children and adolescents experience the world. Our bodies and our minds need rest to regenerate and recover from the demands of the day, but our devices can prevent adequate, quality sleep.
Too much screen time can seriously affect a child's mental health
Luke Lambrecht, our resident neurodevelopmental specialist, provides some guidance on this. Luke reminds us
“Screens affect sleep because they emit Blue Light as the sun does. The function of blue light from the sun is to wake us up for the day and it is removed to allow us to sleep. The circadian rhythm of sleep needs to be considered in screen habits of the developing child and adolescent and their screen as it impacts Melatonin production and inhibition (sleep chemical in the body)”
The impact on Melatonin happens via receptors in the eye specifically for blue light. The optic nerve sends signals to the pineal gland and melatonin levels are affected. If this is continuously disrupted it can have long term neurological effects on younger children. The CDC in the USA had highlighted a concerning rise in the rates of teenage suicide. Identify that this rate rose by 65% over the period 2010-2015, with a direct link to increased screen time usage.
Statistically speaking, we are obsessed with our devices.
If we consider the fact that the average human touches, swipes and scrolls through his or her device a million times a year and, the more obsessive amongst us do it up to two million times a year. It's fair to say that we also need daily breaks from our devices!
The average human touches, swipes and scrolls thorugh his or her device a million times a year!
Sleep deprivation is considered by the United nations as a form of toture. As adults we inflict this on ourselves through grueling work schedules, late night instagram sessions and, and night time nappy changes for new born babies. Children lack the experience and the will power to self regulate their device usage, and can inadvertently deprive themselves of quality sleep.
For young people, sleep, or more specifically the absence of sleep, can be a serious matter.
Neurodevelopmental guidelines recommend that 6 to 17-year-olds need 8 to 13 hours sleep and it needs to be recognized that sleep patterns change in puberty to the extent that it seems that, especially teen boys, require sleep in the upward range.
Seven Sensible Screentime & Sleep Tips
If that all sounds a bit technical consider Luke’s seven tips for creating a better sleep environment for your child or teenager.
- Screens do NOT help children fall asleep.
- Screens can delay sleep onset for up to three hours.
- There should be a digital bedtime. Screen use should stop 2 hours before children and adolescents need to be asleep.
- Screen time is cumulative over the day so routine limited use is also important for sleep. If you missed our earlier article about how much screentime is appropriate at different age levels, you can find it at this link.
- Overuse of screens also affects the quality of sleep as staying asleep is more difficult. This may relate to the body not being able to settle and reduce its temperature which is essential to good sleep.
- Sleep deprivation is very bad for development - don’t enable this by being lax on sleep hygiene.
- Poor sleep can affect school performance, problem-solving abilities, mood instability and unpredictability as well as increased anxiety and depression.
And finally the bedroom should be a tech free zone
One of the simplest ways to resolve these challenges is to have all devices charged overnight at a central charging point so that bedrooms can be tech-free zones. Phones should not be used as wake up alarms, a traditional analog alarm clock can do that. Devices in the bedroom distract from sleep with alerts and notifications, a constant distraction; simply put, they prevent your child and adolescent to come to rest.