Taking a device to bed is a very common habit which most adults are now guilty of in today’s digital age. But, when we let our kids take their devices to bed, what are the impacts?
According to a study conducted by the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne in June 2017, 43% of all children are taking their devices to bed, and one in four of these children report having sleep problems. In America, the National Sleep Foundation estimates that 89% of adults and 75% of children have at least one electronic device in their bedrooms.
I’m inclined to think that the American figures are more realistic, as I feel the problem in Australia is bigger than we want to admit. Given that there is now medical evidence that screens can have a negative impact on our kids’ sleep, it’s essential that parents teach today’s kids how to use screens appropriately and enforce boundaries around when and where screens can be used.
Some of the many issues when letting kids and teens take their devices to bed include …
Sleep delays – tablets and smartphones 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.
Interrupted sleep cycles – if children have digital devices in their bedroom, the 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 enough sleep cycles (most kids and teens need between four and six sleep cycles per night).
Night waking – viewing scary or violent content can cause nightmares, particularly amongst younger children under 10 years of age. While 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.
Online dangers – it isn’t just the sleep issues that put kids at risk with devices in the bedroom. Research shows that most cyberbullying, sexting and children accessing pornography takes place at night, because devices are in bedrooms. The added danger here is that because of the way kids’ and teens’ brains are wired, their prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for logical thinking and impulse control) doesn’t work at night, and their emotional brain is working instead. So, they’re literally at risk of being more impulsive, taking more risks and being emotional, and this means that they can make mistakes.
What can parents do?
The simple and most effect course of action is banning devices in bedrooms for kids and teens. If your teens require their smartphone to use as an alarm clock, there are ways around this; buy them an actual alarm clock or better still, install parental controls on their devices to disable the internet during bedtime and ensure the phone is switched to night mode.
Cyber Mum Australia.