Ensuring your kids get their ZZZ’s in screen-free, restful surroundings.
It’s the end of the evening: Homework is complete, teeth are brushed and your kids are tucked into bed for a restorative night of sleep — or are they? If your children have a television, smartphone, or other web-enabled device in their bedroom, odds are you will find them awake long into the night.
Brenda, a mom from Massachusetts, says her 13-year-old son sleeps with his phone either in his hand or tucked under his pillow. “It’s incredibly frustrating. His phone beeps with text messages throughout the night, often waking him. He admits that he can’t resist the temptation to read the texts and to respond. What am I supposed to do, take his phone away?”
A Time to Restore
Sleep is a child’s downtime for the body to heal, grow and re-energize. It is also an important time for the brain to process new information, committing it to memory. During sleep, children’s brains reinforce an interesting concept taught during class. Their immune system kicks in to defend against an invading cold virus.
The energy they exerted during a soccer game is restored. Inadequate or broken sleep impairs these types of activities. In addition, the National Institutes of Health report that sleep deprivation can cause:
* Slowed metabolism.
* Impaired immune function.
* Behavioral problems.
* Emotional disturbance, especially depression.
* Increase in errors and accidents, especially car accidents.
* Difficulty waking in the morning.
The more sleep-deprived, the more acutely kids will feel these disturbances and the more severe the health consequences. Multiple studies also suggest that chronic sleep deprivation — i.e., years of poor sleep — may lead to dangerous health conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, stroke and even certain cancers.
Setting Sleep Goals for Your Family
In early 2015, the National Sleep Foundation updated its recommendations for the hours of sleep required depending upon age. These guidelines were developed after a review of more than 300 peer reviewed articles published within the last decade. The new guidelines suggest the following:
* School-Age Children (ages 6-13):
9-11 hours of sleep
* Teenagers (ages 14-17):
8-10 hours of sleep
* Young Adults (ages 18-25):
7-9 hours of sleep
Sleep needs vary by person. You may find that your child requires more or less than the recommended range; however, these guidelines serve as an excellent starting point in setting goals for your family.
Widespread Sleep Deprivation
According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on the average school night only three out of ten high school students achieve the minimum recommended hours of sleep. Even more concerning, the journal Pediatrics published an article in 2015 suggesting that adolescent sleep has been consistently declining over the last 20 years. This is slowly leading to an epidemic of sleep deprivation in youth across the U.S.
Screen-Free Sleep Areas
There are three major concerns with screens in the bedroom. For one, media is often stimulating. Watching TV shows, streaming videos online and scrolling through social media posts flood the brain with information, making it more difficult for the mind to relax. Second, across multiple studies, the light emitted from televisions and personal devices has been found to disrupt the sleep cycle by delaying secretion of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone made by a gland in the brain that influences regulation of sleep. When melatonin is secreted, individuals get sleepy; when it is suppressed, it is more difficult to fall asleep. Blue light — emitted from backlit screens such as those found in smartphones and computers — is notorious for inhibiting melatonin secretion.
Finally, there is the issue of sleep disruption. The National Sleep Foundation’s 2011 Sleep in America Poll found that nearly one in five 13- to 18-year-olds report being awakened several nights per week by a phone call, text message or email.
Preparing for Rest
Instituting “screen-time lights-out” at least one hour — preferably two — before bedtime can give your child a period of time devoted to winding down. This will also encourage the body’s natural secretion of melatonin, which will alert the brain that it is soon time to rest. Quiet activities during this hour such as drinking a cup of decaffeinated tea, listening to calming music, journaling and reading can all help prepare an adolescent for rest. Beware, however, of e-readers as many use back lighting to enhance their screens. If your child enjoys reading for pleasure, an old-fashioned print book is the best bet. Alternatively, consider purchasing a blue-light filter that can be applied externally to the screen. For a more tech-savvy solution, download a display-altering app. There are numerous apps on the open market that allow users to limit the disruptive blue wavelengths emitted from their devices.
Optimizing Your Child’s Sleep Environment
Ideally, the bedroom should be for sleep only, and there are several ways to ensure the sleep environment facilitates — rather than interrupts — this process.
* Remove or limit access to media in the bedroom.
* Consider placing televisions in common areas of the home only.
* Designate a nook within the house as the computer space, and avoid having a desktop computer in the bedroom.
* Remove cell phones, smartphones and other mobile web-enabled gadgets from the bedroom. This means charging them overnight in another area of the home.
* Consider having your cellular provider set up restricted usage periods for your child’s cell phone. For a small fee, many providers are able to restrict calls, messaging and/or data usage at certain times on designated phones. For instance, you can choose to turn off data completely overnight and allow only calls and messaging from a set list of parent-approved contacts.
* Limit noise disturbance.
* If removal of TVs, phones, computers and other devices with screens from the bedroom is unrealistic, consider turning them off or silencing the ringers and notifications.
* Ensure a cool ambient temperature.
* Too warm an environment will often disrupt sleep. Keep the temperature cool, and use blankets as needed for comfort.
* Darken the room.
* Dim any overhead lights as your child prepares for bed.
* Avoid night-lights.
* Consider adding room-darkening window shades in the bedroom.
As parents, it’s our role to look after the health of our children. Getting a good night’s rest has been shown to benefit t both a child’s physical and emotional health. Kids who sleep well are less likely to be responsible for car accidents, they perform better in school and they are better able to regulate their behavior and emotions. Great sleep enables kids to perform at their greatest potential. Ensuring a screen-free, cell phone-free space at night will not only benefit your children in the short term, it will also teach healthy habits that can promote wellness long into their adult years.
Sarah R. Kiser, CPNP-PC, is a PNP with nearly a decade of experience in pediatric nursing. She currently serves as the exclusive PNP in a school-based health center at the Dana Hall School, Wellesley, MA.