We all know that sleep is important regardless of how old we are, but the importance of the younger generation getting a full 40 winks can never be overstated. Lacking in sleep is, for children especially, linked to problems with cerebral and physical development in their formative years.
Many believe that over-stimulating youngsters before bedtime can be linked to trouble sleeping, however, researchers at Cardiff University have found that children who use laptops, mobile phones or tablets have double the risk of sleep difficulty compared to those who have limited access to such devices. This is important because researchers believe that, aside from development issues, lacking sleep while young can lead to increased risks of obesity, mental health issues and reduced immunity.
Why is this? What can we do about it?
Many screens produce a blue light that can severely affect our internal body clock (our “circadian rhythm“), tricking our brain into producing less of a chemical called melatonin that can help to send us to sleep. It is believed that this is the key link to why children have such significant problems nodding off shortly after logging off.
There are, however, ways of easing the effect of screen-time on youngster’s sleeping patterns without wrenching their favourite touchscreen device from their little hands. In January 2016, Apple added a feature called “Night Shift” to its iPhone and iPad operating system, iOS 9.3. This switches the blue hues onscreen to a more melatonin-friendly red tint, reducing the risk of affecting sleep. A similar feature, called f.lux, was available for Mac OS laptops for several years before Apple ported their Night Shift feature into the desktop last year. These features can be set to “kick in” automatically and can mirror the rise and fall of the sun, helping the body clock fit more in time with the light around and outside.
Of course, this is no perfect solution, and aside from this less obvious “blue light effect”, there have been claims within the Cardiff University study that games that stimulate and alert the child could prolong the time it takes them to fall asleep.