There are few kids in America who don't have ready access to a television, computer, tablet, smartphone or other gadgets, which may spell trouble for sleep.
How Electronics Steal Sleep
Televisions, computers and small devices like smartphones and tablets all emit light. Our internal circadian rhythms use light in their regulation of sleep and wake cycles. In particular, the blue spectrum of light emitted from electronics seems to impact melatonin production, causing users to feel tired later than usual.
One recent study looked at a fairly large sample of fourth and seventh grade kids to get an idea of their electronic usage and sleep habits. From the sample, over half of the kids slept near small screens and 75% slept with televisions in their rooms.
Average sleep times were 9.8 hours for the younger group and 8.8 hours for the older group. The kids who slept near small screens slept an average of 21 minutes less each weeknight compared to those without electronics. Those with TVs slept 18 minutes less on weeknights. Other research found that increased TV consumption and TVs in bedrooms is associated with less sleep for kids of all ages.
The National Sleep Foundation's 2014 Sleep In America survey estimates that 89% of adults and 72% of kids have at least one electronic device in their bedroom at night with TVs and phones being most common. Both parents and kids who left TVs, tablets, smartphones and music players on at night reported later bedtimes and significantly less sleep.
Outside of biological factors, games and social media can lead to mental distraction further causing kids to stay up later. Cellphone notifications and texts sounding at all hours of the night can also wake them up in the middle of the night, too. In the National Sleep Foundation survey, 26% of parents and 16% of kids report occasionally checking emails and texts after initially going to sleep.
Surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center estimate that 78% of 12- and 13-year-olds sleep with their cellphones nearby, and 86% of teens 14 years and older sleep with phones nearby. Most teens in the survey left their phones on in order to receive emergency calls or texts from friends, and many felt obligated to be available to friends at all hours.
More Sleep Equals Healthier, Happier Kids
Mood is another area affected by rest. One study found that with an extra 27 minutes of sleep, teachers reported kids were more alert, well-behaved and in control of their emotions.
How Much Sleep Do Kids Need?
The right amount of rest will vary depending on the age of the child and their individual needs. The National Sleep Foundation recently announced updated sleep guidelines following a large scale review of studies and research. For children, they currently suggest the following:
- Newborns (under 3 months): 14 to 17 hours
- Infants (4-11 months): 12 to 15 hours
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11 to 14 hours
- Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10 to 13 hours
- School age (6-13 years): 9 to 11 hours
- Teenagers (14-17 years): 8 to 10 hours
If you're curious about your own sleep, the guidelines suggest seven to nine hours for adults (18 to 64 years) and seven to eight hours for older adults (over 65 years).
Minimizing the Role of Electronics at Night
Below are a few tips that can help you reduce the role electronics may play in sleep disturbances.
Set a firm "turn-off time" for all electronics, and make it at least 30 minutes before bedtime. If your child is resistant to the idea, try moving turn-off time up gradually until they adjust.
Offer books, journaling, coloring or conversation as an alternative for winding down before bed.
Since small screens appear to have the greatest effect, require that tablets, smartphones and handheld games be checked in before bed (and kept outside of the bedroom during sleep hours).
It's best not to have televisions in children's rooms, but if you do, make sure rules are established and that they're off before bed.
Stick to a consistent routine at night; keep bedtimes regular and maintain consistent pre-sleep activities.
Other tips for creating a slumber-friendly environment and routine include making sure rooms are dark, cool and beds are comfortable.
In the National Sleep Foundation survey, parents' electronics habits often mirrored their kids'. Lead by example with evening electronic usage and healthy nighttime habits — it will help you sleep better, too.
How do electronics factor in to your family's nighttime routine? Are you guilty of midnight channel surfing or do you keep electronics out?
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