A lot of parents may use a tablet, smartphone or other device to help their child get to sleep. What could be the harm in allowing a few minutes of playing a game or reading a picture book on a tablet? According to a sweeping review of research published in the journal Pediatrics, parents shouldn’t be in a hurry to get rid of paper books just yet.
Researchers have long documented that kids and teens who stare at their screens are more likely to experience sleep disruption.
“With this paper, we wanted to go one step further by reviewing the studies that also point to the reasons why digital media adversely affects sleep,” said lead author Monique LeBourgeois, an associate professor in the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder.
The research suggests that because young eyes, brains and sleep patterns are still developing, adolescents and kids are particularly vulnerable to the sleep-disrupting effects of too much screen time before bedtime.
“Light is our brain clock’s primary timekeeper,” said LeBourgeois. “We know younger individuals have larger pupils, and their lenses are more transparent, so their exposure and sensitivity to that light is even greater than in older individuals.”
When light hits the retina at the back of the eye in the evening hours it signals the body to suppress the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, delaying sleepiness and pushing back the body’s natural bedtime. Short-wavelength “blue light,” which is emitted from almost all handheld devices, is an especially potent melatonin suppressor.
Of more than five dozen studies looking at youths around the world between the ages of 5 to 17, 90 percent have found that more screen time is associated with delayed bedtimes, fewer hours of sleep and poorer sleep quality, the authors report.
About 75 percent of youths have screen-based media in their bedrooms, 60 percent interact with them in the hour before bedtime and 45 percent use their phones as an alarm.
LeBourgois has some recommendations for parents to help their child sleep better.
1. Limit children’s media use in the hour before bedtime.
2. Turn off all electronic media devices at bedtime and charge them in a central location outside bedrooms.
3. Remove all electronic media from your child or teen’s bedroom, including TVs, video games, computers, tablets and cell phones.
4. Be a good role model. Do all of the above yourself.