Technology, from smartphones to game systems and security monitors to smart appliances, is a part of your child’s everyday life. That same technology that organizes, entertains, and protects, often has unintended consequences like changing the timing of your child’s sleep cycle.
With an understanding of how the human sleep cycle functions, you can make positive changes to your child’s sleep environment and nighttime habits that will encourage a full night’s rest. However, first, you have to look at how the sleep cycle actually works.
Light and the Human Sleep Cycle
The majority of the light that filters through the Earth’s atmosphere falls on the blue spectrum. Special photoreceptors in the eyes called ganglion cells absorb that light and directly connect to the circadian region of the brain.
This region sets the circadian rhythms, which control the biological and physiological cycles that regularly repeat within a twenty-four hour period, including the sleep cycle.
For the majority of human history, people went to sleep when it got dark and woke up at sunrise. The invention of electricity changed everything. Artificial sources of light suppress sleep hormones in a similar way to sunlight. They also allow us to be awake at all hours of the night.
However, the body’s source of sleep regulation, sunlight, hasn’t changed. Light, any spectrum of light, especially blue light, can prevent the circadian rhythms from syncing with the Earth’s light/dark pattern.
Consequently, the full release of sleep hormones can be delayed.
Television Before Bed
We say television, but we could insert the word tablet, iPad, or smartphone and be saying the exact same thing. Technology use in the bedroom can be the most detrimental of all.
Exposure to the light from any technology can suppress sleep hormones at the very time your child should be getting drowsy.
With poor sleep comes a list of potential health issues. Changes in appetite increase the chances of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Sleep alters the ability to regulate emotions, increasing outbursts, aggression, and irritability.
Children lose the ability to concentrate, focus, and recall information too. Overall, it’s a recipe for problems in all aspects of your child’s life.
Smart Use of Technology and Good Sleep Habits
A complete ban of technology at night may not be practical, but you can develop family rules that promote better sleep. At the same time, modeling and encouraging good sleep habits will help your child learn to regulate their behavior on their own.
Here are a few tips to help you on the way:
- Technology Curfew: Set a technology/electronics curfew that’s at least two hours before bed. You’ll have the most success if it’s a family curfew, but do what works best for your circumstances.
- Tone It Down at Night: It’s not just technology that might need to be toned down at night. Bright light from any source can disrupt sleep. Try to lower light and noise levels as bedtime nears. Encourage quiet activities leading up to bedtime to help your child transition.
- Sleep-Supportive Bedroom: Bedrooms should be sleep supportive in every way. For kids that may mean removing all electronic devices, including a television, from the bedroom and keeping it completely dark. For you, that may be investing in a mattress that supports your weight, sleep style, and any physical conditions that affect your sleep.
- Establish a Predictable Bedtime: The circadian rhythms rely on light, but they also adapt to your behavior. A predictable bedtime allows the body to adjust and strengthen responses to the release of sleep hormones.
Technology changes fast, but the human body doesn’t. Learning to support good sleep is a life skill that’s crucial to your child’s long-term health. Managing technology will give your child the mental and physical health to reach his potential.