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Unplug your child for better sleep

Do you feel that tablet devices and computers are affecting your child’s quality of sleep? Could unplugging your child lead to better sleep?

Unplug your child for better sleep

Technology is everywhere these days and no one can deny that the internet and gaming devices are as commonplace as TV sets. As adults, we are warned to step away from technology at night with clear evidence to suggest that our sleep can be affected because being ‘always on’ makes it almost impossible to switch off.

better sleep

But what are the effects of too much screen time on little ones? There has been scant focus on the impact this blizzard of technology can have on their quality of life and, let’s face it; it is the norm now for kids to have access to some form of device.

We’ve all seen toddlers and young children who can expertly navigate around their parent’s phone in search of their favourite movie or game. Indeed, a recent tabloid article told the tale of a five-year-old child who knew how to work an iPad but had no idea what to do with basic building blocks.

So does technology affect children’s sleep? In a word – yes.

Screen time affects sleep

The unavoidable fact is that the amount of screen-time a child has, particularly before bedtime, has a direct impact on the amount and quality of their sleep. And good sleep is, of course, a fundamental ingredient in children’s brain development (not to mention in their parents’ sanity!). In fact, it is during sleep that those teenage growth hormones are released, allowing them to grow and develop.

There is scientific evidence to prove that night-time sleep is as important for children’s development as healthy eating and regular exercise. Poor or inadequate sleep can lead to mood swings, behavioural problems such as ADHD and cognitive problems, which impact a child’s ability to learn in school.

So in what way does this exposure to screen time affect their sleep? A recent study by JAMA paediatrics in the States found that, on average, children who engage in social media before bed-time sleep for one hour less than their peers and those that watch television tend to have far more disrupted sleep.

better sleep
Meanwhile, a Massachusetts General Hospital for Children study found that for each hour of television a child watched, they got seven minutes less sleep. Similar studies have found that the use of phones, tablets, TV and internet close to bedtime can lead to bedtime resistance, difficulty falling asleep, anxiety around sleep, nightmares and general disruptions to sleep.
The problem appears to be over-stimulation in conjunction with the addictive nature of these devices. Light disturbs our sleep and it is the light from the television or gaming devices that can make it hard for children to fall asleep and can affect their quality of sleep. If devices in the bedroom are left on, this can lead to further sleep disturbances as messages or notifications come through.

Cycle disruption

During sleep, we go through sleep phases or cycles. If children’s sleep has been compromised from the over-use of electronic devices, they become incapable of smoothly transitioning from one sleep cycle to another. Rather than having good-quality sleep in a deep slumber (non-rapid eye movement state), they spend more of their sleep time in a phase of light sleep (rapid eye movement-REM). It is this near wakeful state that leads to them becoming easily disturbed during their sleep.
While it is only fair to recognise the timely and blissful distraction these devices can provide for busy, under-pressure parents, we must carefully weigh this against the need for our children to have a healthy and happy daily routine. Now might be a good time for parents to look at instilling etiquette around the use of electronic devices, both in the home and when children are out and about.

How to reduce screen time

So how can we reduce the amount of time our children spend on these devices without clamping down on them altogether? Here are some tips I’ve put together:

1. Avoid screen-time before bedtime in favour of a more conventional ‘wind-down’ routine for kids of all ages, for example; reading, bath time or talking about their day.

2. No screen time for at least two hours leading up to bedtime.

3. Restrict where devices can and cannot be used – the bedroom is a definite NO! (This also allows parental supervision of online activities which is so vital nowadays).

4. Implement ground rules around usage during the day with set times and ensure that all parents/care-givers are singing from the same hymn sheet.

5. Limit access to WIFI in the house.

6. Encourage your children to take part in other activities such as reading, playing games and outdoor play or the joining of a sports or social group.

7. And finally, as obvious as it sounds, you should always lead by example. If you are expecting your children to limit their use of all things screen you need to do the same – so step away from that smart phone!

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Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

A
In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.

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ASK LUCY

Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….