Author: Theona E. Kennett
Technology has become pervasive in our lives. It’s no longer surprising to see children as young as two and three playing on a tablet or cell phone. However, the convenience unfortunately comes at a steep price. Increasingly, parents are concerned about the negative impacts that screens may be having on their children. And the research is showing that the worries of parents may be justified. According to many sources, excessive digital screen use messes with children’s melatonin levels, which directly impacts their sleep.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain to regulate an individual’s sleep and wake patterns. As it becomes darker, the levels of melatonin in an individual’s brain rise, helping them fall asleep. However, technology is jeopardizing this natural hormone. In China, a study was done on over 19,000 school-aged children to determine the relationship between technology use and sleep behavior. The study found that screen use (Tablets, cellphones and even TV) was positively correlated with later bed times, later awakening times, and a shorter duration of sleep during weekdays and weekends. This is because exposure to a particular type of blue light emitted by self-luminous electronic devices causes melatonin levels in the brain to decrease, which in turn causes sleep problems.
So, what can you do to minimize screens affecting your child’s sleep? For starters, you can begin monitoring when your child or teen is using devices.
For melatonin to successfully do its job, we need to stop using screens at least 90 minutes before bed.
This can be a significant change for many; children will often protest the loss of something they find enjoyable. And many parents struggle to manage the bedtime battles and increased time commitment for fear the struggles will never end.
Parents concerned about the jump to a technology-free bedtime should ease into the change. Start by brainstorming with your children about what they enjoy as part of the bedtime routine. Moving from screens that are hand-held towards screens that are farther away (such as the TV) is a great intermediate step. Then, slowly take away screen-based activities and add in other connecting and soothing activities like cuddling, coloring, reading side by side or together, or a warm bath.
It is also important to model healthy screen use. Playing/working on your phone or tablet or watching television all evening does little to show your child how to choose other relaxing activities.
- Take the time to plan the change.
- Empower your child by involving them in the decision,
- Increase connecting activities such as cuddling, reading together, etc., and
- Put in the extra time to lock in the new routine.
Expect the change to take a few weeks to fully implement. Your effort will result in a happier child and more harmony in your family.