Today’s kids are spending more and more time with screens and often before bed. Many of us know that this digital habit can impact both the quality and quantity of their sleep, but we often find this habit hard to change (and for some families it’s simply a matter of needing to do homework on devices before bed). This blog post will inform you about exactly how screens may be sabotaging your child or adolescent’s sleep and will provide you with realistic strategies to minimise the adverse impacts (no, I won’t be suggesting that you ‘digitally amputate’ your child or completely ban screens, so please read on).
If you’re reading this and feeling pangs of guilt because your child uses a screen before bed, don’t worry you’re not alone. Released in June 2017 the Australian Child Health Poll, conducted by the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, revealed that almost half of all children (43%) use digital devices before bedtime and one in four of these children (26%) report having sleep problems. From my experience, speaking to parents, educators and health professionals throughout Australia, I think these are relatively conservative estimates. I think this problem is much bigger than these statistics suggest.
Given that screens can have a really negative impact on our kids’ sleep (and they’re not going to disappear), it’s essential that parents, educators and health professionals teach today’s kids how to use screens appropriately and enforce boundaries around when and where screens can be used.
If we don’t enforce boundaries around where and when they can use screens they have the potential to sabotage kids’ sleep.”
When I talk about sleep in my Parent Seminars, I often acknowledge that I’m preaching to the converted when I tell parents that kids need sleep. Yep, most of us have endured the dreaded toddler meltdown or the agitated tween, who’s simply tired. Sleep deprivation definitely impacts on kids’ mood and behaviour, that’s a given (and many seasoned parents have experienced the consequences when this doesn’t happen). However, poor sleep habits have also been shown to have adverse impacts on children’s health and development. Insufficient sleep and/or poor quality sleep negatively impacts their alertness, capacity to learn, memory formation, emotional health, concentration, immunity, reaction times, obesity rates and impulse control. Studies have shown that even 30 minutes of missed sleep can result in an IQ difference of ten points!
Research by Wahlstrom (2014) found that 70% of 14-year-old girls get insufficient sleep, with most of them recording less than eight hours/night (at this age, nine hours/night is the minimum required). Dr. Seton, a sleep expert from Sydney’s Woolcock Institute of Medical Research and Sydney’s Westmead Children’s Hospital suggests that 15% of 14-year-old girls are chronically sleep deprived, with many only accumulating five hours sleep/night. This is alarming as research confirms that even small declines in the amount of sleep kids are having can have a significant impact on their learning (remember, even 30 minutes less sleep/night can reduce a child’s IQ by 10 points!).
Inadequate sleep can also be associated with increasing rates of depression and anxiety and a range of other issues related to kids’ well-being. Put simply, sleep is vital for kids’ health, learning and development.
Kids really need sleep for their overall health and learning, yet we’re facing a sleep deprivation epidemic amongst our kids and teens. “
It’s important to note, it’s not just screens that are to blame for deteriorating sleep habits amongst kids and adolescents. Increasing amounts of homework and a full schedule of extracurricular activities are also culprits for the sleep-deprivation epidemic we’re facing.
As I travel throughout the country speaking to parents, educators and health professionals, I’m hearing more and more anecdotal reports of kids falling asleep in class or constantly reporting feeling tired and depleted. Teachers have reported that more and more children are falling asleep in class (and no, it’s not because the teacher is boring!) and when I speak with health professionals they confirm that they’re also treating children who are often sleep deprived.
Some sleep experts are suggesting that the sleep crisis amongst our kids (both primary and secondary students) is a public health epidemic. Research tells us that 87% of teens sleep with their phone (their ‘digital teddy bear’!) and this is adversely impacting the quality of their sleep as they’re being woken throughout the night to alerts and notifications.
In fact, research shows that children as young as 9 years of age are checking their phones 10 times a night, if they’re present in the bedroom. This means that they’re not completing a sufficient number of sleep cycles each night because their sleep cycles are being interrupted by their phones.
For some kids and adolescents, screens have become their ‘digital teddy bear’ that they take to bed each night! “
Why are we seeing a deterioration in kids’ and adolescents’ sleep? They’re not getting enough sleep and/or they’re getting poor quality sleep (woken up multiple times by alerts and notifications on their digital devices). Today’s kids are often using digital devices before they sleep and this can impact on their sleep in two ways: (i) delay the onset of sleep and (ii) hamper the quality of their sleep.
// Sleep delays – tablets and smartphone emit blue light and this can cause sleep delays. Children’s eyes are still developing and haven’t yet developed the protective pigments that enable them to filter out some of the harmful blue light. Blue light suppresses the body’s production of melatonin (the hormone that regulates their sleep-wake cycle) which kids need to produce to fall asleep quickly and easily. Inadequate levels of melatonin can delay the onset of sleep and over time, these sleep delays can accumulate into a significant sleep deficit. So yes, the iPad before bedtime can be the culprit for your child’s inability to fall asleep quickly.
// Premature waking – many parents are reporting that their children are waking at earlier and earlier times to get their daily dose of digital (often before their parents wake up). In parent seminars I share a story of a 3-year-old girl who was waking up each day before her parents and using the iPad. After changing the 6-digit password they were shocked to still find their daughter on the iPad when they meandered downstairs each morning. How did she do it? She’d sneak into her parents’ bedroom and use dad’s thumbprint (he’d sleep with his arms hanging out of the bed) to unlock the device. Scary or genius, I’ll let you decide?
// Interrupted sleep cycles– if children have digital devices in their bedroom, the pings and beeps and alerts and notifications can wake them up and interrupt their sleep cycles. A typical sleep cycle takes approximately 90–110 minutes to complete – four stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and one stage of rapid eye movement (REM). If kids are being woken multiple times each night, they’re not completing a sufficient number of sleep cycles (most kids and teens need between 4 and 6 sleep cycles per night).
// Altered circadian rhythms – Traditionally, the onset of puberty causes changes to adolescents’ sleep habits because of natural biological changes. Their sleep-wake cycles change because of these biological changes. The hormone melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland, but around puberty, melatonin production is delayed until 9-10pm, meaning that adolescents are biologically wired to stay up later (so now you know, they’re telling you the truth when they tell you they’re not tired at 9pm!). However, given that many adolescents are using phones and tablets at night, their melatonin production is even further delayed.
// Night waking– viewing scary or violent content can cause nightmares, particularly amongst younger children under 10 years of age (they’re susceptible to experiencing intense fear as a result of viewing disturbing footage or images because they’re psychologically unable to distinguish fiction from reality until between 8-10 years, typically). Whilst many parents wisely restrict their kids’ exposure to violent movies and/or video games, sometimes we overlook the scary or disturbing images or video that are featured on TV news programs and distributed via social media. Movie trailers and promotions are another source of content than can be distressing for kids to consume.
// Digital bedtime– in an ideal world, kids wouldn’t use digital devices in the 90 minutes before they go to sleep. Research has shown that kids’ brains and eyes need a break from screens at least 90 minutes before bedtime (even 60 minutes has been shown to improve sleep). Psychologist Jocelyn Brewer calls it a “digital sunset” and it’s a concrete reminder that kids need to switch off from their devices.
// Blue-light glasses- given that many of our kids are now spending time before sleep doing homework on digital devices, sometimes the digital bedtime I mentioned above is totally unrealistic. I understand that co-curricular or sports training can delay the start of homework so kids are often using devices close to bedtime. So Baxter Blue developed a great solution- non-prescription glasses that absorb blue-light. I’ve been using these glasses for 6 weeks now and I can say they’ve helped my sleep (I’ll admit, sometimes I don’t walk my talk and I’m on my phone or laptop before I go to sleep).
// Bedrooms as tech-free zones- we need to keep devices out of bedrooms. Simple. Not only does the presence of technology in the bedroom impact on the quality and quantity of sleep kids get, but there are serious issues related to cyber-safety when kids have access to technology at night. (In my parent seminars I often share a story of an 8-year old boy who was waking up to do homework and access pornography at 1am!) When your child tells you their phone is their alarm clock, go and buy them a traditional alarm clock instead.
// Have a landing zone- nominate a specific area in your house where the six tablets, five laptops, and eight smartphones go to charge each night. That way you can do a quick headcount before bed to check that no devices have been smuggled into bedrooms. Bonus tip- check you child’s charging the device and not just an empty case.
// Do a technology-swap- I’m a Mum so I’m not going to propose absolutely no screens before bed. Just think carefully about what they’re doing on screens before bed. Avoid rapid-fire, fast-paced screen action, as it hyper-stimulates the brain. Doing a swap can also work well. Watching TV and not the iPad before bed is a better choice as TVs don’t tend to emit as much blue light as mobile devices and kids don’t (usually) sit as close to TVs as they handheld devices. Listening to music or an audiobook instead of watching a screen may also be a better choice.
I’d love to know in the comments below, have you seen changes in your child’s sleep habits because of screens? What strategies have you implemented that worked?
A SMART device is often the first thing we look at in the morning when our alarm goes off and last thing see at night – and it can seem like there is hardly a waking hour in between that is screen free.
Nearly half of kids aged just two to four years old spend time on a tablet device or smart phone, almost half of teens are on devices on weekends for more than the recommended limit of two hours a day*, and more than nine out of ten teenagers own their own device, according to a recent Pulse of Australia survey of parents of kids aged two to 18.
Lack of sleep, being approached by strangers online and cyber bullying are common concerns among parents. And more than three-quarters of parents surveyed were aware that their own digital behaviour rubs off on their children.
“Children are begging us to get off our devices and we need to do better for them,” says psychologist, parenting expert and father-of-six Dr Justin Coulson.
“There is no doubt that parents have problematic screen usage and one of the biggest complaints from children when they are quizzed about this it that their parents are always on their devices.”
“Our kids need to be dreaming, not streaming,” he adds. “Evidence also clearly points for increased screen time being associated with poorer social and emotional skills in children as young as five.”
Dr Coulson suggests discussing a family digital media plan − including parents − that sets boundaries, such as devices being left in flight mode at a charging station, not in bedrooms, overnight, no tablets at the dinner table or always looking someone in the eye when they are talking to you.
“I love the idea of screen-free Sunday, or one night a week when you play board games or cards games together as a family,” Dr Coulson adds.
More than half of the parents surveyed said they would like to spend more time doing outdoor activities or talking and sharing opinions, according to the research.
“As hard as it may be, parents, partners and friends can reclaim personal and family time by going screen-free, such as on weekend excursions or a Sunday drive,” says psychologist and social commentator Sabina Read. “Research tells us that car trips can provide a great social connection point, so it’s a worthwhile space and time Aussies should consider for family bonding and play.”
*Australian Government, Department of Health. Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines. Find out more here. Accessed 10 August 2017.
Bringing back family time to weekends.
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‘The wiped out feeling has gone and I just feel at peace’
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Do your eyes hurt from staring at a computer all day? Are they dry and itchy? Do you suffer from loss of focus, blurry vision or fatigue? Headaches or neck pain? All these things are symptoms of digital eye strain (also called Computer Vision Syndrome) which is defined as the ‘physical discomfort felt after after two or more hours in front of a digital screen’.
Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours staring at digital screens, whether it’s the computer at work, mobile phone, iPad, PlayStation… or just relaxing the old fashioned way in front of TV. All this screen time can be hard on your eyes and can lead to eye strain.
Reading screens can sometimes hurt – Small type, screen glare and pixelated images force our eyes to work harder in order to focus. That’s counter-productive, uncomfortable – and yet another reason why your eyes are so tired all the time.
there is a solution
We are very excited to welcome a wonderful range of blue light glasses to our Earthing Oz store. We have been searching for just the right glasses to bring you and we have finally found them!
Blue light is all around us. It exists naturally from the sun which regulates our circadian rhythm and tells our body when to wake up and go to sleep. In moderation, it can be beneficial and during the day it boosts attention, reaction times and mood.
However, recent studies have shown that over-exposure to blue light from artificial light sources – including digital screens on smartphones, tablets and computers – may have detrimental effects on our health. Digital eye strain, sleeping disorders and increased risk of macular degeneration – the leading cause of blindness in industrialised nations – are just some of the concerns.
Blue light glasses for adults
Blue light glasses for kids
Blue light can also lead to other forms of fatigue beyond eye strain. As this article from Harvard Medical School explains, exposure to artificial blue light at night disrupts the circadian rhythm that causes the natural release of melatonin that helps us sleep. Because the blue light tricks our brain into believing it’s still daytime, falling asleep can be more difficult and we don’t sleep as deeply. Melatonin suppression and circadian disruption can also lead to other more serious side effects, including an increase in obesity and depression.
* Ernst & Young (2016). Digital Australia. Sydney, NSW
** Eyes Overexposed: The Digital Device Dilemma, 2016 Digital Eye Strain Report,
The Vision, Council, USA
**** UAB School of Optometry – A study on worker productivity and computer vision
An expert cancer researcher and advisor to the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer (WHO/IARC) has issued his scientific opinion that radiofrequency (RF) radiation – such as the signals emitted by mobile phones and wireless networks – should be re-classified by WHO as a “Group 1 carcinogenic to humans” agent, based on scientific evidence associating RF exposure to cancer development and cancer promotion.
The claim was made by Dr. Anthony Miller at a recent conference in Wyoming, USA where international experts presented the best available science on mobile phone and wireless radiation.
“The evidence indicating wireless is carcinogenic has increased and can no longer be ignored” said Dr Miller.
Dr. Anthony Miller, senior advisor to the WHO IARC reviewed the best availible scientific evidence and now concludes that cell phone and wireless radiation is a carcinogen. This excerpt is from a July 31, 2017 lecture he gave in a scientific symposium sponsored by Environmental Health Trust. Learn more at https://ehtrust.org/
To find out ways to reduce your exposure to RF radiation visit us online today at www.earthingoz.com.au