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How is technology affecting our children's sleep?

Amanda Spitko

According to The Sleep Medicine Review, the total amount of sleep our children are getting a night is continuing to decrease.

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Are screens to blame for this decrease in sleep?

Sleep is an essential part of a child’s development and plays a vital role in their happiness and wellbeing. However, is children’s exposure to screens exposing them to hidden problems with their sleeping patterns? A 2006 survey showed that nearly all adolescents have at least one electronic device in their bedroom. A 2014 review found consistent evidence revealing that sleep was hampered by screen time, primarily in relation to shortened sleep duration and a delay in the timing of sleep.

How do screens affect the timing of sleep?

Children’s, and even adult’s, exposure to screens in the evening time can delay bedtime. If a child is spending his or her time before bed watching an exciting television program or playing a thrilling video games or holding an interesting phone conversation with a friend his or her brain can release endorphins, even adrenaline, which will delay the time that they go to bed. Also, if children’s free time during the day is spent in front of a screen, it can be reducing the amount of time that they could have spent doing other activities—such as exercise— that may be beneficial for sleep and sleep regulation

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How is the light from the screens affecting your child’s sleep?

Many of the devices that our children are routinely using before bedtime emit a bright light that can hinder their sleep. Exposure to this light during the evening can increase alertness and delay when the brain finally rests for sleep. Also, the bright light at night can disrupt their bodies’ circadian rhythms by suppressing the release of the hormone melatonin, which aids in maintaining and regulating our sleep-cycle.

How can we limit screen time and help our children sleep soundly at night?

Many studies have shown that limiting screen time during the time leading up to bedtime is beneficial for sleep. It has also proven beneficial to remove electronic devices from the bedroom all together in order to establish good sleep practices and maintain a good sleeping environment for our children. Although it has not been officially established, public guidelines recommend that children under the age of 13 should be limited to two hours of screen time per day, and children below five should have less than one hour a day.

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There are many advantages in our children’s use of technology, such as a wider exposure to the world and all of its lessons that it has to teach us, and development in learning and social environments. However, the worrying affects of long screen times for children, such as sleep, should not be ignored. We are all learning more every day in how to take a balanced approach to screen time and the use of electronic devices throughout the day, while still prioritising our children’s sleep, health and development.

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