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Screen Time and Sleep


There is no doubt that we are more reliant on screens than ever before. They are our source of connection to the world; current affairs; entertainment and even relaxation. However a study published this week by JAMA paediatrics found that when it comes to teenagers, use of portable devices such as phones; IPADS and laptops too close to bedtime is having a negative impact on their sleep patterns.

Their research suggests that not only were these young people having disrupted sleep at night but were also reporting feeling more tired and less able to concentrate during the day. As parents, this is a real 21st century challenge and it presents us with a question. With screens being such an important part of a teenager's life, how can we practically avoid these problems from occurring in our homes?

Whilst we do not profess to hold all the answers, this blog hopes to explain the physiological causes of this sleep disruption and suggest some solutions to avoid this problem creating havoc with your child!

Firstly we need to actually understand how screens affect our sleep. The back of our eyes ( our retinas) contain photo receptors which are able to sense even the smallest change in the environment between dark and light. As they sense the light emitted from these devices, our bodies natural sleep rhythms become affected. This in turn disrupts the hormones that we need to be at conducive levels in order to sleep such as melatonin and cortisol. Put simply, most of us would not consider sleeping in our office with the noise of photocopiers and the cacophony of machines and frenetic energy that is there. However, when a bedroom contains a phone, a computer and/ or other screens that is the exactly the environment we are expecting our children to sleep in.

If we want our teenagers to wind down and sleep well, we need to offer them an environment which will promote this. When teenagers go into their rooms at night, it should look and feel different to during the day which in turn will help their brains to associate with sleep. The trouble is many teenagers feel that they need their screens in order to relax and wind down from the day. It can be helpful to encourage your children and teenagers develop positive bedtime habits which will relax them and don't involve screens. These could include listening to music; reading ( an actual book); taking a bubble bath or chatting with you about their day.

From a practical point of view, there is often no option than to have screens in teenagers' bedrooms. They may be relied on for alarms or there may be space constraints in the rest of the house. However, if this is the case, it can be helpful to have a time before bedtime where notifications are turned off or the device is put onto do not disturb mode.

By giving your children tools which help them become less reliant on screens, not only will their sleep pattern improve but hopefully your entire family dynamic as well!