Are My Kids Not Sleeping Because of Too Many Electronics?

Is it time to but the cell phone and tablet away before bed?

Are My Kids Not Sleeping Because of Too Many Electronics?

By Amy Abbott February 10, 2014 3,678

Children fighting sleep is as typical as sibling rivalry. Yet, new research from Harvard University suggests overexposure to electronics may be more stimulating than a child's own willfulness over his regular bedtime.

The December 14 issue of "Education Week" outlined the research of Dr. Charles A. Czeisler, a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Czeisler found that late-day exposure to the artificial light from computer and mobile electronic screens can disrupt sleep cycles as much as six to eight hours. Dr. Czeisler's also studied artificial light from energy-efficient lamps.

Americans once lived in an agrarian society; lives revolved around the presence of available light. Thomas Edison's 1879 invention of the incandescent light bulb changed how we live, work, and yes, sleep.

A long-time sleep researcher, Dr. Czeisler once worked with the Boston Celtics on improving player's sleep cycles. He has widely researched the effects of sleep deprivation, and is a champion of the importance of sleep especially in children.

"People who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have one." — Leo Burke

Dr. Czeisler told a December meeting of the Society of Neuroscience that technology has disconnected us from the natural 24-hour day.

Sleep is brought on by two varying sleep systems for both children and adults. First, the longer it's been since you've slept, the sleepier you get. We've all experienced this phenomenon with the child kept up past his normal bedtime.

The circadian system, the second, is regulated through human exposure to daylight. This short wave length or "blue" light increases cortisol in the brain. Cortisol is a hormone from the adrenal glands that regulates sleep and stress, among other things.

Dr. Czeisler consistently found that LEDs or "light emitting diodes" which contain blue light are the culprit in resetting the brain's circadian clock. LEDs lights, popular because of energy efficiency, are more effective at resetting our brain's clock than Edison's old-fashioned incandescent light bulb.

Of course, the blue light of a laptop, computer or Smartphone is as part of a bedtime ritual for many as storybooks and "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" once was.

"Education Week" said the National Sleep Foundation reported that more than half of all Americans use a computer, laptop or tablet device in the hour before sleep every night.

While a full and restful night is important, it is particularly important for the growing child.

Dr. Czeisler is a proponent of exposing children to blue light in the mornings, and advocates morning use of computers that may even strengthen a child's normal circadian rhythm.

An interesting 2013 study in "ChronoPsysiology & Therapy" postulated children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder could enhance sleep time and quality of sleep. The study sought a non-medical treatment alternative for children with ADHD with sleep difficulties.

Participants in the study wore blue wavelength light-block glasses during evening hours to counteract any effects from too much light earlier in the day. The researchers measured outcome by sleep quality over a two-week period.

While the study only had partial compliance among participants, researchers believed subjects were able to sleep earlier and better after use of the glasses. The researchers suggested more long-term, larger studies of those with ADHD insomnia.

For parents of young children, consider a slowdown or moratorium on electronic devices in the hours before bedtime. Perhaps a return to the dimly lighted room and a story from the Brothers Grimm's Fairy Tales could rival any of today's video games without the effect of missing sleep.

To learn more on this topic:
5 Myths about Sleep and ADHD
Parenting the Child with ADHD: Strategies that Work
Creating a Summer Routine for ADHD Teens

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