One of our primary concerns as parents involves ensuring that our children obtain a good night’s sleep, from the time they are babies. In the U.S., recent reports show that children under the age of nine spend over two hours a day on electronic devices, with around 42% of children this age having their own tablets. In addition to raising concerns about the type of apps they are using/games they are playing, so much screen time has also recently been found to risk their quality of sleep.
Why Are Children and Teens More Vulnerable to the Effects of Screens?
A recent large-scale review of available research, published recently in the journal Pediatrics, found that children are particularly sensitive to the sleep-disrupting effects of electronic devices, because their brains, sleeping patterns, and eyes are still in the process of development. As noted by the report authors, when light hits the retina of the eye, it suppresses the production of melatonin – a hormone which makes us feel sleepy. Light extends the period of time during which we feel awake and alert, and because lenses are more transparent in young people, the effect of electronics on their eyes is significantly higher.
Psychological arousal is also more significant in children and teens: that is, texting friends, watching visually impactful media or networking on social media sites can increase their cognitive arousal.
Why is Sleep so Important?
Sleep is vital for a host of bodily functions; it helps keep anxiety, obesity, and fatigue at bay, to name just a few. Lack of sleep can lead to major health issues that are costly and challenging to treat, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression. Although the majority of Americans enjoy coverage for these diseases, some medication or treatments may lie outside their policies, which can pose a great economic and personal burden for families.
How Can Parents Improve Sleep in Children?
Experts recommend specific steps, including:
Ensuring children do not spend time on electronic devices in the hours leading up to bedtime.
Turning off all devices at bedtime and charging them outside the bedroom.
Removing plug-in devices from children’s bedrooms (including computer games, televisions, etc.).
To improve sleep in kids, try to reduce their amount of screen time, especially in the afternoon and night time. Stick to a routine, ensure your child’s bedroom is cosy and dark, and if you do opt to give your children a snack before bed, make it a healthy one such as fruit or veggies, or snacks from a food group your child may have consumed little of during the day.