Advances in technology in the last century has without a doubt improved, facilitated and empowered our lives to levels never imagined. Conversely, are we being held hostage by these same devices? Are we unable to work, play or sleep without them? And what is the impact on young children?
As a Sleep Expert, I enjoy bringing you interesting studies, thoughts and products to help improve the quality of your life, and those of your family. In this article, let’s examine how these potentially life-altering devices and technologies impact our families and younger generations, for better or worse.
As a baby boomer, I did not grow up with my face stuck to a screen. I had no choice but to head outdoors and use my imagination during playtime. I rode my bicycle, played in the park on swings and jungle gyms and knew to come home when the street lamps came on. The only exposure I had to a screen then was the television, and even that was very limited.
Recent studies have shown that every hour children spend using touchscreen devices is associated with 15 minutes less sleep. Considering how important sleep is for the cognitive growth of a young child, this statistic should concern most parents.
Due to the overwhelming amount of exposure to screens, around 20-30% of children today experience difficulty sleeping. Parents who took part in these studies noticed significant improvements in their kid’s sleeping patterns once they limited the number of hours their children interacted with screens.
What is troubling is that as children grow older, their exposure to screens increases. One study found that infants that were 6 to 11 months old used touchscreens for about 8 minutes a day, on average. Kids aged 12 to 18 months used them for an average of 19 minutes a day, and kids aged 19 to 25 months used them for 25 minutes a day on average. Science has proven that bright screens stimulate the mind to the point of suppressing melatonin levels, which are essential to sleeping well.
So what can you do as a parent?
Setting strict limits on exposure to screens is certainly the first step to improving your child’s quality of sleep. Depending on the age of your child, keep contact with electronics to fewer than 30 minutes a day. Obviously, as our kids grow older, school expects them to spend time researching and reading on the computer, so don’t limit their curiosity or work ethic. Putting limits on phone applications, Netflix usage, and other time-consuming sleep-limiting habits is the best way to proceed.
Gerry, Your Sleep Expert