Family Matters: Small screens and sleep time

Dream time not scream time: Children and adults have more problem sleeping after watching TV or using ipads and could face obesity or develop behavioural problems.

Dream time not scream time: Children and adults have more problem sleeping after watching TV or using ipads and could face obesity or develop behavioural problems.

When I was a child, I was allowed to take a book to bed and read for a short while before one of my parents came to turn out the light.

Now I sometimes read using my mini-ipad. The nights I use my ipad and forget to turn it into night mode, I take some time to fall asleep.

There is a clear link established between using technology before bed and the quality of sleep.

Light from screens impacts on the production of melatonin, a chemical produced by our brains to help us sleep. Blue light is a major culprit here though all wavelengths of light have some impact.

Research shows repeated exposure to bright screens in the evening over five nights slows the body clock by 1.5 hours – we stay awake longer and need to sleep-in longer.

Teenagers are particularly vulnerable – they need more sleep and are likely to want to engage with technology. Up to 60 per cent of Australia’s young people between the ages of 18 and 24 are now affected by sleep problems.

If we don’t get the necessary hours of sleep or the quality of our sleep is poor, there is an increased risk we will develop anxiety issues, become depressed, gain weight, have reduced immunity and maybe even risk higher blood pressure and heart disease.

There is evidence beginning to develop that young children are more likely to develop behavioural problems when sleep patterns are disturbed. For every hour children watch TV each day, research suggests there is a 10 per cent increase in risk they will develop attention-related problems.

Preschool-aged children with a TV in their bedroom are exposed to a very high risk of obesity: there is a 31 per cent increase in risk for every one hour of TV watching. Children with a TV in their room are likely to watch an extra 4.8 hours a week.

As parents, what can we do about this? We need to be aware of what screen-based media our children are using and when they are using them.

If it is necessary to use screen-based media in the evenings, use night settings to minimise (but not eliminate) the impact of light on sleep – free software programs are available which decrease the amount of blue light on screens.

Try and avoid the use of screen-based media in bedrooms: no bedroom TV for example.

Engage in non-screen-based activities that children enjoy before bedtime. Quiet times reading together, cuddling and talking, singing quiet songs, a relaxing bath are good ways to prepare children’s bodies for sleep.

Living in one of the early NBN cities, Armidale citizens have become very used to their screens, and it is now time to re-think what we use them for and when we need to use them. 

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