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.
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.
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.
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!