Turn off the tech early so kids get a great night’s sleep

As re­search shows chil­dren who use tech be­fore bed can lose sleep as a re­sult, LISA SALMON asks ex­perts how to help young­sters sleep soundly

South Wales Evening Post - - FAMILY HEALTH -

CHIL­DREN’S tech ob­ses­sion can be hard enough for par­ents to deal with dur­ing the day – but new ev­i­dence sug­gests they should be con­cerned about the ef­fect it’s hav­ing on kids at night too.

Re­search shows that the 40% of chil­dren aged be­tween six and 11 years who use mo­bile phones, lap­tops or tablets in the hours be­fore bed­time are get­ting around 20 min­utes less sleep a night than kids who don’t use tech in the run-up to bed­time. So chil­dren who use tech be­fore bed ev­ery night could end up with a sleep debt of around 121 hours a year.

The re­search, led by cog­ni­tive de­vel­op­men­tal psy­chol­o­gist Dr Anna Weighall from the Univer­sity of Sh­effield, in con­junc­tion with the Univer­sity of Leeds and Si­lent­night, ques­tioned 1,000 par­ents, and also found that on av­er­age, chil­dren slept 60 min­utes less if tech­nol­ogy de­vices were in the room, com­pared to those who slept in a tech-free zone.

“Tech­nol­ogy can ben­e­fit our lives in so many ways,” says Dr Weighall, “but par­ents need to be aware of the neg­a­tive im­pact it can have on chil­dren when it comes to sleep.

“The pres­ence of tablets and phones in a child’s bed­room, even if they’re switched off, can leave them feel­ing un­set­tled.

“A 20-minute sleep debt may not seem a lot, but if you look at it over a year, or even through­out their child­hood years, you be­gin to see the sig­nif­i­cant im­pact of a tech-filled bed­time rou­tine. Hav­ing clear rules about the use of tech­nol­ogy close to bed­time is a small change that has the po­ten­tial to make a re­ally big dif­fer­ence to our chil­dren’s daily lives.”

When light lev­els drop in the evening, our cir­ca­dian timer switches on and stim­u­lates the pro­duc­tion of the sleep hor­mone mela­tonin, but the use of tech be­fore bed dis­rupts this nat­u­ral process, ex­plains Dr Ne­rina Ram­lakhan, Si­lent­night’s sleep ex­pert.

Dr Ram­lakhan says screens on phones and tablets emit blue light which sup­presses the pro­duc­tion of mela­tonin and stim­u­lates pro­duc­tion of the chem­i­cal dopamine, which makes us feel alert.

“By es­tab­lish­ing a reg­u­lar sleep rou­tine, with­out mo­biles or tablets, chil­dren will sleep bet­ter, per­form bet­ter at school, and be hap­pier and health­ier as a re­sult,” she stresses.

“Con­cen­tra­tion and the abil­ity to learn can be se­verely af­fected by lack of sleep, so I urge chil­dren and par­ents to put down tech­nol­ogy at least 90 min­utes be­fore bed­time.”

The re­search also showed one in 10 par­ents feel un­able to ensure their child gets the sleep they need. How­ever, child sleep spe­cial­ist An­drea Grace has these tips to help school-age chil­dren get a good night’s sleep:

Us­ing tech at bed­time might end in a night of bro­ken sleep

A few sim­ple steps should ensure a healthy stretch of dream time

Dr Anna Weighall

An­drea Grace

Dr Ne­rina Ram­lakhan

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