It’s time to wind down, relax, and think about getting ready for bed. What do you do? Traditionally, our ancestors would drink a glass of warm milk, read a chapter or two of a good book, lie quietly in bed thinking about the day just passed and the agenda for the day to come. Maybe they played a few hands of cards or indulged in other calming, post-dinner activities which prepared their bodies for sleep. Oh, how different much of this looks today! We get on social media or check our emails and texts. Maybe we watch a game of Jeopardy on the TV, then finish up some work from home. Perhaps we call our best friend, mother, or sister to catch up for a minute or two before wandering down the hall to the bedroom.
Whatever the pre-bedtime routine, chances are you may not have hit the target dead center in terms of optimum relaxation. Numerous studies have been conducted in order to determine if and how technology use affects children’s sleep. Some of this research suggests that kids who regularly accessed social media before bed slept an average of an hour less per night. The University of Sydney conducted another such survey and concluded that there is a “dose-response” relationship between sleep patterns in children and the use of electronic devices prior to sleeping. That is to say that children who overused media devices experienced an increased level of sleep disturbances, decreased sleep duration and increased difficulties achieving and maintaining sleep. Additionally, the misuse of technology has been shown to interfere with certain hormonal relationships and biological changes in adolescents.
Finally, a pilot program in three Montreal elementary schools has linked less screen time with improved sleep habits in several areas. This school-based sleep promotion program measures children’s sleep habits by placing them into two groups: one that receives intervention and the other that does not. Materials were provided to both students, school administrators, teachers and parents, who were then asked to consider how technology, school schedules, extracurricular activities and homework impacted children’s sleep. Although the results have been mixed, they did note that children’s sleep onset time decreased while their sleep duration time increased. Also observed was a marked improvement in the English and Math scores of the intervention group of students who did receive the interventions.
So, you may be reeling a bit from all this information and wondering how, as a parent, you can intervene. Experts suggest you first and simply remove the screens. It can be as simple as calling off any media use 1-2 hours before your children’s bedtime. The idea is to make the bedroom a calming sanctuary where the body can unwind and adjust to its upcoming sleep patterns. Secondly, it is important to stick to a consistent bedtime routine. Increasing sleep duration, in combination with maintaining a consistent wake time, can aid the body in developing and maintaining proper “sleep training”. All of this seems to indicate that some limitations to technology and media use can benefit us all.