Have you ever had your child complain of not being able to sleep and feeling exhausted the next morning? If so, he or she might be “wired and tired.” When your child makes these complaints, you might notice that your child may not fall asleep easily, is restless at night, or is extremely irritable and/or distracted in the morning. These are all key factors in the role that electronics play in both the quality and quantity of children’s sleep.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infants and toddlers should be getting 12 to 15 hours of sleep per night, children 3 to 5 years of age should obtain between 11 and 13 hours of sleep each night, children 5 to 10 years old should be sleeping 10 to 11 hours per night, and teens should be getting 8.5 to 9.25 hours each night.
Even if your child is getting an adequate amount (quantity) of sleep, according to the above recommendations, it does not mean that their sleep is restorative (quality). Both of these factors are important to ensure that your child maintains proper development as well as good physical and mental health as they grow into adulthood.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “Nearly every problem of concern to parents and pediatricians can be brought on or exacerbated by inadequate sleep: from obesity to aggression to hyperactivity.”
The ever-increasing usage of electronic devices by today’s children contributes greatly to the decline in their quantity and quality of sleep, as shown by more and more research. There are many adverse effects of children not getting quality, restorative sleep. These include a decline in cognitive ability, judgment and behavior, immune system and metabolism impairment, decline in creativity and memory, and an increase in accidents and injuries.
One study even noted that “a difference of just 25 minutes per night of sleep duration was associated with changes in school performance among adolescents.”
The more children use electronics (television, video games, computer, cell phone), the less sleep they tend to get and the later they go to bed. One of the most commonly-found culprits for this is the presence of electronic media in the bedrooms of children. Numerous sources show that at least 70% of children have a television in their bedroom, and 1 in 3 children have a computer with internet access in their bedroom.
Another noteworthy factor is the gender differences regarding television and computer presence in children’s bedrooms. Regarding television, girls with a TV in their bedroom sleep more on weekends than boys with or without a TV in their room. This is to make up for sleep lost during the week. Computer presence in children’s bedrooms is connected with worse sleep habits in boys but not in girls.
The reason why electronic usage effects sleep so much can really be pinned down to 3 main elements:
First, video games and other electronics (action-packed TV show, for example) induce the body’s fight-or-flight response, which puts the body in a state of stress. This stress makes it difficult for the body to calm down and relax in preparation for sleep
Second, electronics put off a very unnatural light. When the body is ready to go into sleep mode, melatonin (which helps regulate sleep patterns) is released. Melatonin is also released by darkness. The bright lights of electronic devices hinder the release of melatonin, thereby disrupting the body’s natural circadian rhythm.
Finally, electromagnetic radiation, which is a by-product of anything electronic, also exacerbates the fight-or-flight response and disrupts the release of melatonin.
The most important thing to consider is this – if your child has electronic devices in his or her room, the best thing you can do is remove them. This will provide for a stimulation-free zone so that your child is able to get the best night’s sleep possible. Not only will this improve quality and quantity of sleep, but your child will improve focus and memory, more easily retain what is learned in school, be more organized and have a better quality of life.
Does your child have a television or computer in his/her bedroom? Comment below with how you think the presence (or lack thereof) of electronic media in the bedroom is affecting your child. Stay tuned for “Electronics & technology: Part 4 - Effect on Family Dynamics.”