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Children Have Sleep Problems From Electronic Screens

S u m m a r y:
Children are extremely vulnerable to electronic screens, much more so than adults, resulting in disrupted sleep, says a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

Young Humans Are More Vulnerable To Screens

Children and teenagers are more likely to suffer from sleep disruption that results from the consumption of screen-based media, according to new research conducted by a team from the University of Colorado Boulder. Given that their brains and eyes as well as their sleep patterns are still developing, as opposed to adults, they are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of electronic screens. These findings come from reviewing previous studies that document electronics and sleep disturbance.

“The vast majority of studies find that kids and teens who consume more screen-based media are more likely to experience sleep disruption,” says first author Monique LeBourgeois. “With this paper, we wanted to go one step further by reviewing the studies that also point to the reasons why digital media adversely affects sleep.”

CU Boulder researchers measure the effects of screens on sleep in children by exposing them to light. Photo Credits: CU Boulder.

Less Sleep & Poorer Sleep

LeBourgeois and her team analysed data from over 60 papers that involve young people from ages 5 to 17; it is to be noted that the participants hailed from many different parts of the world. Upon reviewing this load of information, the team found 90% of these studies show that more screen time is linked with delayed bedtime, leading to not only less but also poorer sleep.

Light in the Eyes of Children

The higher sensitivity of children is due to the fact that their eyes are not completely developed, which makes them more susceptible to the light from electronic screens. This light is said to impact on their internal body clock. According to LeBourgeois, light allows our brain clock to read time: when we are exposed to light, sleep-promoting hormone melatonin is suppressed, keeping us awake, and the opposite happens during the evening when natural light normally dims out. However, when light from screens fall onto the eye retina in the evening, melatonin is further inhibited, thereby delaying drowsiness and manipulating the body clock. Younger individuals are more exposed and sensitive to that light because they have larger pupils, and more transparent lenses, explains LeBourgeois, and so they experience troubles with their sleep patterns.

The study authors mention a study that shows the difference between adults and children in terms of this effect: even when both are exposed to the same quantity and intensity of light, the melatonin levels of children decrease twice more than their adult counterparts.

Blue Light Drives Away Sleep

Another body of research points at the blue light normally emitted from hand-held electronics: this form of light is particularly more effective at suppressing melatonin.

“Through the young eyes of a child, exposure to a bright blue screen in the hours before bedtime is the perfect storm for both sleep and circadian disruption,” LeBourgeois says.

Psychological Stimulation of Digital Media

The light from digital media is not the only sleep inhibitor. The authors record another aspect of how these devices impact negatively on kids: the psychological stimulation caused by digital media, in the form of violence or simply texting friends, cannot be denied. Studies show that this can disrupt sleep through the boosting of cognitive arousal.

Digging Further

Recent data shows an increase in the use of mobile media device among young children; those under 8 years of age spend a considerable amount of them with them, and parents are including digital media in their kids’ bedtime routine. The current situation calls for more in-depth research.

“The digital media landscape is evolving so quickly, we need our research to catch up just to answer some basic questions,” says Pam Hurst-Della Pietra, one of the contributors of the study.


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