Technology has permeated into the very fabric of our society. Today’s kids know how to operate smartphones before they’ve even written their first letter of the alphabet! It’s true that smartphones, tv screens, and computers are a great way to keep children engaged and accelerate their learning. However, as the saying goes, the excess of anything can be bad. Find out how technology affects your child’s sleep pattern.
What does research say?
In a study conducted by the Penn State College of Medicine, it was found that children who had access to tech – including smartphones, game consoles, televisions, computers, and the like – suffered from insufficient and poor-quality sleep. In addition, they were actually more tired when they woke up the next day. The researchers obtained data for the study directly from the parents, the analysis of which yielded some key insights.
Kids who played video games or watched TV before bed got about half an hour less sleep compared to the ones who didn’t. However, it was the kids who spent time in front of smartphones (and other computer screens) that suffered the most: they got an hour less sleep compared to the others. The research also showed that the use of cellphones during the night (e.g. waking up to reply to an instant message) was correlated with the other uses of technology, which may compound the adverse effect on the child’s sleep pattern. (Does your teen have smartphone addiction?)
The underlying causes of the negative impact that technology has can be manifold. For instance, it is already well-known that the kind of light that smartphone and computer screens emit can interfere with the body’s circadian rhythm. This internal clock is responsible for regulating our physiological processes, including– you guessed it– sleep. However, the trigger may go beyond that. Even when the kids did use technology only during the day, they would still suffer from disrupted sleep patterns.
Dr. Ben Carter, a lecturer at King’s College London on biostatistics and lead author of this study, hypothesized that perhaps the light, sound, and even the content conveyed by technology have an overly stimulating effect on the mind of children.
Other Culprits and Possible Counters
It is worth noting (as pointed out in one study) that technology may not be the end of the thread when it comes to poor sleep in children. It could be a symptom of a deeper psychological condition that affects your child’s sleep habits in its own right. For instance, a condition such as hyperactivity may be compelling the child to constantly use their smartphone to play games or communicate with friends, thereby keeping them from sleeping.
Similarly, your child might sleep poorly if the household has a negative ambience. If parents argue a lot, the child may be distracting themselves from the negativity by absorbing themselves in YouTube videos. However at night, they would still have to deal with the anxiety/depression they suppressed, thus leading to poor sleep.
Setting Limits and Openness
It is essential for parents to draw boundaries on the use of technology in their household. This is to ensure that they do not neglect their kids’ sleep. It is equally important to realize that restricting technology use may not be a universal fix. Perhaps your child suffers from poor sleep because of an uncomfortable bed. Making sure they have a bed that invites sleep should be a top priority for you.
Another proactive solution is to maintain an open, caring relationship with your kids. Ensure they are confident to share their problems with you. This can work wonders in terms of dispelling negative emotions that can compromise their sleep. As a parent, you may also want to stay vigilant about sudden increases in your children’s use of technology. This could indicate a deeper underlying cause for concern.
Of course, if you notice a serious degradation in your child’s sleep quality which isn’t improving through common-sense remedies, seek the help of a trained professional – they can determine for sure whether it is technology or something else that’s keeping your child awake at night!
Contributed by Frank Apodaca, the editor of The Sleep Judge-A website focused on raising awareness on the importance of sleep and also providing reviews on the latest sleep products. Follow the Sleep Judge on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.