Your screens can affect your sleep

The days of one TV screen in a home are long gone, but our addiction to handheld devices can affect our sleep patterns.

The impact of smartphones is not always positive. Aside from the social issues, the screens themselves can cause poor sleep patterns, resulting in declining performance at school and work.

As difficult as it is to get kids to stop using their electronic devices before bedtime, there’s a compelling reason to make it happen. The blue light that’s emitted from these screens can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin, increase alertness and reset the body’s internal clock — the circadian rhythm — to a later schedule.

This is an especially big problem for teenagers whose circadian rhythms are already shifting naturally, causing them to feel awake late at night. The end result is sleep-deprived or poorly rested kids, who have essentially given themselves a mini case of jet lag. This cascades into poor performance in class and affects their longer-term results and academic direction.

Blue light is problematic because it has a short wavelength that affects levels of melatonin more than any other wavelength does. Light from fluorescent bulbs and LED lights can produce the same effect.

Normally, the pineal gland in the brain begins to release melatonin a couple of hours before bedtime, and melatonin reaches its peak in the middle of the night. When people read on a blue light-emitting device (like a tablet, rather than from a printed book) in the evening, it takes them longer to fall asleep. People affected this way also tend to have less REM sleep (when dreams occur) and wake up feeling sleepier— even after eight hours in bed.

Child psychologists suggest you establish an agreement or contract with your kids about when they switch off their devices before bed. Applying a digital curfew is essential if they are to get the right amount of quality sleep.

There will be exceptions to the rule, such as when they have a homework deadline. Consider dimming the screen brightness or install an app that automatically warms up the colours on the screen, away from blues and toward reds and yellows.

Also, avoid using energy-efficient (blue) bulbs in nightlights in bedrooms and bathrooms. Opt for dim red lights instead because red light has a higher wavelength and does not suppress the release of melatonin.

Another simple rule is to make sure your kids go to bed reading a book, even if they’ve just switched off their computer. It relaxes them faster and helps them to drift off to sleep, rather than lying awake in the dark wide awake, waiting for sleep to arrive.