How Late Night Screen Time Jeopardizes Your Kids’ Health

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How Late Night Screen Time Jeopardizes Your Kids’ Health

July 28, 2017

Written by: Patricia Evans

Nearly a third of Canadian kids are sleep deprived, according to a recent study. The ParticipAction Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth suggests that poor sleep quality is primarily attributed to too much screen time. “Because of screens in their bedroom, because of holding their cell phone under their pillow, because they didn’t move very much in that day and frankly are not fatigued, (kids) get a disrupted night’s sleep,” explains Dr. Mark Tremblay, lead researcher for the ParticipAction Report Card.

The National Sleep Foundation provides the following guidelines on the recommended hours of sleep for children aged 0 to 17:

Newborns (0-3 months) – 14 to 17 hours

Infants (4-11 months) – 12 to 15 hours

Toddlers (1-2 years) – 11 to 14 hours

Preschoolers (3-5 years) – 10 to 13 hours

School-aged children (6-13 years) – 9 to 11 hours

Teenagers (14-17 years) – 8 to 10 hours

Insufficient sleep adversely affects a child’s physical and mental development. One culprit you should be aware of is the unregulated use of smartphones, tablets and computers. Understand how too much screen time can impact a child’s growth and development.

Language delays and behavioral problems

Smartphone and tablets have become too common that nearly all households in first-world countries have them. Access to these devices is open to the entire household, including infants and toddlers. Keeping your baby occupied with a tablet can be helpful when you have tons of work to finish, but this can affect their language development. A new study presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting reported that the more screen time a child has, the more likely that they have delays in expressive speech. “This is the first study to report an association between handheld screen time and increased risk of expressive language delay,” lead researcher Dr. Catherine Birken said.

Children who play too much video games and fail to get quality sleep at night manifest behavioral problems. After staying up late, you may notice your kids get overly emotional the following morning, throwing temper tantrums and crying easily. They may also exhibit defiant and hyperactive behaviors.

Poor school performance

To better understand the effects of late-night screentime to kids, you should know the role of melatonin to the body’s internal clock. The hormone melatonin, which regulates sleep and wakefulness, is released a few hours before bedtime and peaks in the middle of the night. The light emitted by electronic devices suppresses melatonin, causing a delay in the body’s natural clock or circadian rhythm. Thus, children who scroll their smartphones past their bedtime have trouble falling asleep.

One of the effects of lack of sleep in children is poor academic performance. A US study concluded that students who sleep less than 7 hours on both weekdays and weekends, which is below the recommended sleep hours, exhibit poorer performance compared to those lost sleep on weekends. “In addition to shorter sleep duration, symptoms of insomnia were also associated with a poorer school performance,” the researchers noted.

Attention disorders and lack of self-control

Teenagers are among the heaviest users of electronic devices. According to a study published in the journal Child Development, adolescents’ constant connectivity is linked to poor mental health. The findings showed that teens who spent an average of 2.3 hours a day on their gadgets worsen pre-existing problems with attention and behavior. “Results from multilevel regression models showed that daily reports of both time spent using digital technologies and the number of text messages sent were associated with increased same-day attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and conduct disorder (CD) symptoms,” the study noted.

The list of mental health risks due to sleep deprivation should alarm parents. Teens who stay up late at night texting or browsing social media are less likely to exercise self-control than their peers who get adequate sleep at night. Dr. Ryan C. Meldrum, an assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Florida International University, said that sleep deprived adolescents are likely to be aggressive, impulsive and short-tempered. Adolescents are more prone to mental problems because their brain’s frontal lobe, which helps restrain impulsivity, is not yet fully developed.

Depression and lack of focus

How lack of sleep affects mental development is a matter that should concern all parents. A long line of studies suggests that sleep deprivation in teens increases the likelihood of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts and attempts. “Based on prior research, we have theorized that sleep disturbances may result in difficulty regulating emotional information, and this may lower the threshold for suicidal behaviors among at-risk individuals,” warns Dr. Rebecca Bernert of the Suicide Prevention Research Lab at Stanford University.

Sleep deprivation is also blamed for lack of focus and drowsiness. The inability to concentrate not only affects one to perform mental tasks, but also to do important tasks that require presence of mind such as driving. This increases a person’s risk to road accidents and other man-made catastrophes.

How to help your children get better sleep at night

Your kids’ overall health is your responsibility. The implications of late-night screen time that lead to sleep deprivation can affect them through adulthood. Untreated sleep disorders is associated with mental impairment, heart attack and poor quality of life.

Some of the practical ways to help your kids sleep better include imposing rules on gadget usage in your household. Set certain hours in which they can use their computers and smartphones. To ensure that they fall asleep on time, your kids should disconnect at least an hour before bedtime. Create a conducive sleeping environment for them. Make sure they sleep on a comfortable bed mattress in a cool bedroom. Sleep specialists advise keeping the bedroom dark and noise-free throughout the night. Most importantly, set a good example to your kids. Regulate your own smartphone usage. If you can finish your work in the office, do so. Disconnect as often as you can when you’re home and spend quality time with your children.

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