Sleep is an essential part of our development and wellbeing. It is important for learning and memory, emotions and behaviours, and our health more generally. Yet the total amount of sleep that children and adolescents are getting is continuing to decrease. Why?
Although there are potentially many reasons behind this trend, it is emerging that screen time – by way of watching television or using computers, mobile phones and other electronic mobile devices – may be having a large and negative impact on children’s sleep.
It has also been suggested that longer screen times may be affecting sleep by reducing the time spent doing other activities – such as exercise – that may be beneficial for sleep and sleep regulation.
Screen time in the hours directly prior to sleep is problematic in a number of ways other than just displacing the bed and sleep times of children and adolescents. The content of the screen time, as well as the light that these devices emit, may also be responsible for poorer sleep.
The content, or what we are actually engaging with on the screen, can be detrimental to sleep. For example, exciting video games, dramatic or scary television shows, or even stimulating phone conversations can engage the brain and lead to the release of hormones such as adrenaline. This can in turn make it more difficult to fall asleep or maintain sleep.
The number of devices and amount of screen time children and adolescents are exposed to is continually increasing. Given these early associations with reduced sleep quality, and the importance of sleep in healthy development and ageing, this is an issue that is not likely to go away any time soon.
Sleep should be made a priority, and we can combat this growing problem in a number of ways.