Binge watch that latest season of The Crown? Read the latest novel on your ipad? How about keeping your winning streak alive on Solitaire? Many of us use technology to wind down at the end of a busy day. I get it, I really do. But if I’m honest, most of the time it’s not winding me down, it’s winding me up! I find that I stay up way too late reading, watching or playing games online. Then I wonder why I’m exhausted the next day.
Well, our kids are no different. We all know that quality and quantity of sleep is essential for kids’ growing bodies and brains. The constant sensory overload and electronic stimulation can lead to lack of focus, trouble controlling emotions, exhaustion during the day, and poor sleep quality at night. There is ongoing research on the effects of technology and development of younger children, but there is evidence of the negative impact on adolescents.
A 2014 study from the journal of Global Pediatric Health found that “62 percent of adolescents took their phones to bed with them, 37 percent texted after ‘lights out,’ and 1 out of 12 adolescents were woken by a text in the middle of the night at least two or more times each week.” A large number of children and adolescents use technology as a sleep aid. Recent research surveyed over 2,500 7th and 10th grade students and found that “36% used television to help them fall asleep, over 28% of boys and 14% of girls used video games and over 60% used music.”
This survey supports previous studies showing that using media as a sleep aid contributes to poor quality of sleep, frequent interruptions during the night, and tiredness during waking hours. The same study by GPH, gave specific examples of how technology might be affecting your child’s sleep. These range from disruption of sleep rhythms, melatonin release, lack of outdoor activity (leading to a lack of healthy levels of vitamin D from sunlight), and meeting developmental milestones. As a matter of fact, a study from AVG Technologies claims that “more small children can play a computer game or use a smartphone app than ride a bike, tie their own shoelaces or swim unaided.”
I know this sounds very discouraging, and if you recognize any of these signs in your children, it’s not too late to start some new bedtime habits. First of all, no devices in the bedroom (including TV) and limit screen time. This will take a certain amount of stamina and determination on your part if you are trying to scale back usage with older children.
The next thing is to avoid over-stimulating activities before bed like video games, movies or apps. All of these have the tendency to raise adrenaline levels in children that can keep them awake longer at night (think about how you feel after that exciting football game!)
And finally, think of some quiet activities your younger kids can do before bed like coloring or drawing, reading, or doing a puzzle. Experts in child development are still unsure of how technology affects brain development in young children so we need to be careful that we don’t just assume that it doesn’t have any effect at all.
Ultimately, the best thing we can do is model a healthy lifestyle when it comes to technology so they can see what it looks like.