Sleep Problems Plague Device Dependent Children

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Maureen Mackey
The Fiscal Times
March 3, 2014

It happens to the best of us: We check our smartphones or tablets one last time before we turn in at night – then end up tossing and turning for what feels like an eternity.

That’s because our phones and other devices emit the “blue light” that works against the sleep process by interfering with melatonin, the chemical in our bodies that promotes sleepiness.

It’s no surprise that the same thing is happening to children and grandchildren, with real-world consequences for their health and well-being as well as their school performance. It’s why a new study from the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) says that limiting the use of smartphones and other electronics at night is critical.

The NSF’s 2014 Sleep in America poll asked more than 1,000 parents to estimate how much shut-eye their kids usually get on school nights. The parents estimated 8.9 hours for kids ages 6 to 10-8.2 hours for kids ages 11 and 12, 7.7 hours for 13- and 14-year-olds, and 7.1 hours for teens ages 15 through 17.

Experts recommend far more, however. The NSF recommends 10 to 11 hours of sleep for kids ages 6 to 10 and 8.5 to 9.5 hours per night for kids in the other three age groups.

The glymphatic system (word combination from words for the brain’s glial cells and the lymphatic system) is involved with sleep-time brain waste disposal. During sleep, the space between brain cells normally increases 60% so the glymphatic system can flush away Alzheimer’s-causing amyloid plaque.

The findings are intriguing because more than 9 in 10 parents believe sleep is “extremely or very important” for their children’s performance in school as well as their health, mood and behavior the next day. Yet when parents were asked how much sleep their children need to “be at their best,” 26 percent said that number is at least one hour more than their children are currently getting on school nights.

Parents reported that nearly 75 percent of children ages 6 to 17 have at least one electronic device in their bedroom, with many using those devices right before bedtime.

“To ensure a better night’s sleep for their children, parents may want to limit their [children’s use of] technology in the bedroom near or during bedtime,” said Orfeu Buxton, PhD, Harvard Medical School and a member of the poll’s task force, in a statement.

“We found that when parents take action to protect their children’s sleep, their children sleep better,” added Kristen L. Knutson, PhD, of the University of Chicago.

Among the foundation’s tips:

  • Make sleep a priority in the family’s busy schedule.
  • Set – and keep – consistent bedtimes for your children and yourself.
  • Monitor your children’s use of electronics in their bedroom. Set boundaries.
  • Create a “sleep-supportive” environment by dimming the lights before bedtime and controlling the room temperature (temps above 75 degrees and below 54 tend to interfere with sleep).
  • Encourage activities such as reading or listening to music before bedtime – instead of TV, video games, or surfing the web.

The study also found that kids whose parents have healthy sleep environments have healthier sleep environments themselves. Nearly two thirds of kids (65 percent) whose parents had one or more electronic devices in the bedrooms also had at least one device in their own bedroom.