There has been a longstanding belief that our sleep habits are being critically affected by our inability to put down our phones or pull ourselves away from screens. There have even been studies and tests proving the impacts of screen time right before bed. This quickly moved the beliefs away from a “old wives’ tale” towards a fact agreed upon by many.
While the acceptance of the problem has expanded, there has been minimal understanding of the real scientific causes of the problem, not to mention their impact on our children.
New Research Finds Surprising Results
A new research study done at the University of Colorado, Boulder, sought out to answer this exact question of why screens negatively impact our sleep. The study was an accumulation of more than 60 separate research studies. The researchers combined studies focusing on media habits and screen time of teenagers and school-aged children.
While the impact has been tested thoroughly in adults, this is an interesting new look into how screen time affects children’s sleep.
The full study can be reviewed in the journal Pediatrics, but the very interesting part is the discovery made by the psychologists and neuroscientists.
Chris Brantner, a Certified Sleep Science Coach, told me that while they confirmed screens do hurt our sleep, “the interesting part is that actually found they impact children much worse than adults.” He explained that “the leading driver is children have a far greater sensitivity to light than adults.”
But what’s the reason for this?
How Light Affects Children More Than Adults
Psychologist Monique LeBourgeois from CU Boulder was the lead author of the study. She suggested that the reason children are most sensitive to light stems from the differences in their eyes versus those of adults. She mentions children have larger pupils and more transparent lenses. This results in a greater light exposure and sensitivity.
This means when children are in front of a screen at night time they are absorbing more of the light than adults. Light is the primary cause of our body recognizing what time it is and adjusting itself accordingly. The influx of light at night tricks the mind into thinking it’s daytime and it should be staying up longer. Since children receive even more light, the effect becomes that much greater.
Added Stimulation Also Affects Children
Light is obviously the primary stimulant that would keep a child up at night, but there are others as well. Brain stimulation is something that was found often in children when they’re using electronic devices. Often times the games children play or the shows and moves children watch are more stimulous. In turn, this kindles the brain and can potentially keep it active late into the night.
There’s a stronger impact for children compared to adults, but there could also be an increased tendency for children to have more screen time at night. Children often have numerous personal devices, and many use these as their main source of entertainment. Using these devices at night can have a serious impact on their quality of sleep, which we all know is critically important.
Recommendations to Improve A Child’s Sleep
The researchers and authors of the study align with numerous other experts on the key ways to reduce the impact screens have on your children’s sleep habits. The number one way is to limit a child’s screen time, especially near bed time.
One of the top recommended activities is reading a physical book before bed, but really any other activity that is away from the screen and not overly stimulating will do. Another helpful tip is to have a bedtime snack. Dairy is good, as the calcium helps promote melatonin production.
Children with negatively impacted sleep could experience long-term effects on their health. A lot of emphasis goes to helping children sleep when they’re babies, but it shouldn’t stop there. The researchers mentioned the early part of a child’s life is when development is most sensitive. The exact impacts are unknown, but it’s much better to make the adjustments now to protect your children in the future.