As we use our devices, our brains are stimulated, with neurons firing at warp-speed, impairing our ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. As a result, we have poor sleep quality or fragmented sleep, and we wake up feeling non-refreshed. This results in daytime sleepiness, reduced cognition, impaired memory, poor attention span, and irritability among other undesirable effects.
Artificial light alters the body’s natural 24-hour circadian rhythm. Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) emits a short-wavelength blue light, rather than natural white light. This is abnormal to our brain and results in the suppression of release of melatonin (the sleep-inducing hormone made in our brain by the pineal gland).
This stimulating EMR light also exacerbates the fight-or-flight state, which further crushes the chance for adequate restorative sleep. Even if you’re sleeping eight hours a night, it doesn’t mean your sleep is restorative, especially if you’re not getting into the proper deep sleep stages necessary for this to occur.
Studies have shown that people who read from devices at night—rather than from traditional books—experience reduced or slow sleep, which induces delta/theta activity on EEG (electroencephalogram). This correlates to poor sleep induction and increased sleep disruption, and is further compounded by the reduced melatonin secretion in our brains, causing a one-two punch to our sleep plan.
Disrupted sleep patterns have implications of negatively impacting our moods, work or school performance, and health. Chronic melatonin suppression has been linked with health concerns including an increased risk for several types of cancers. This shows how deeply our mental and physical health is impacted by poor and inadequate sleep.
Almost inevitably, our children—even starting in preschool—are exposed to or regularly use iPads, cellphones, laptops, and video games, among others. Many parents now complain that their children are not sleeping soundly, not falling asleep easily, or not wanting to wake up in the morning. Is it any wonder this is happening when their brains are constantly being stimulated by electronic devices throughout the day and often at night?
Our children’s brains are more sensitive to environmental influences than adults. The child and teen brain is more pliable as it is actively growing and changing. It’s not as “hard-wired” as an adult brain. With some children, it’s obvious when they’re not getting adequate shut-eye. With others it’s harder to tell. Here are some signs your child might not be getting restorative sleep:
If this is eerily familiar in your house, you will want to take this seriously and plan to crack down. It’s time to unplug our kids and set strict limitations, even if this means you may be public enemy No. 1 in your home for a while.
Begin by being the example to your children by setting your devices down and shutting them off within three to four hours of bedtime. You will likely begin to see improvements in mood, academic performance and health for your entire family. Plus, you may just begin to see your kids join you more readily in the family room for some much-needed family time and bonding.
By // Dr. Lorie Puzon
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