There has been an explosion in the adoption of portable media devices like tablets, smartphones and gaming consoles. There are some concerns that their over-use may lead to an increase in children’s (and adults’) sleep disorders. One of the chief concerns rests with the light that radiates from these devices and how it can impact on young children’s body clocks.
How do digital devices prevent us from falling asleep?
1. The light emitted from portable devices such as tablets, smartphones and hand-held gaming consoles reduce the production of melatonin (the body’s hormone that aids with sleep). Without adequate melatonin levels it makes it more difficult to fall asleep.
2. These digital devices are often too stimulating for developing brains and bodies. Often, the rapid-fire input and fast-paced action on screens activates the brain. This is not what brains need before bed.
3. Children are forming poor sleep associations with bedrooms. With the increase in portable devices, children often bring these devices to their bedroom. This does not establish that the bedroom is a sacred space for rest and relaxation. The bed is just for sleep. Nothing else.
So what can parents do?
• In an ideal world, parents would discourage the use of digital devices in the 90 minutes before bed (see my previous post on this topic). This provides the brain with time to calm it self before bed and promote ideal melatonin levels. If 90 minutes is not achievable, try 60 minutes.
• If children are to use portable devices with backlit screens before bed, such as tablets and smartphones, try to encourage them to be as far away from their eyes as possible. Direct short wavelength blue light directly interferes with the production of melatonin.
• Turn down the brightness on your child’s tablet or smartphone screen, especially if being used before bed. Not only will this preserve the device’s battery, but it will also allow their body to produce more melatonin.
• Avoid the use of portable devices in children’s bedrooms. In fact, bedrooms should be media-free zones. Young brains need to associate bedrooms as a place for rest and rejuvenation, not a digital cave, where there are pings, bings and flashes.
• The most effective but hardest strategy to implement (I admit it too) is to model how to switch off digital devices.
Tell me in the comments below, do you worry about your child’s sleep because of their use of digital devices? Do you have any other strategies that work for your family?