I work as a Consultant to Danone in Paris and have written over 40 articles for them recently, and one piece of advice I gave them was not to add bedtime stories on ipads for parents to read last thing at night with their children.
The reason is because children are more vulnerable than adults to losing sleep from taking smart phones and tablets to bed, a new study has found.
Experts have warned that children are more sensitive to the blue light from electronic screens because their eyes have not yet fully developed.
It means the light is better able to disrupt their body clocks, keeping them awake at night.
US researchers have reviewed more than 60 studies on children’s ‘screen time’ in front of televisions, computers, tablets and smartphones.
More than 90 per cent found it led to delayed bedtimes, fewer hours of sleep and worse sleep quality, with the evidence suggesting children’s immature eyes may be to blame.
Lead author Dr Monique LeBourgeois, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, said: ‘Light is our brain clock’s primary timekeeper. We know younger individuals have larger pupils, and their lenses are more transparent, so their exposure and sensitivity to that light is even greater than in older individuals.’
Electronic gadgets keep us awake because their short-wavelength ‘blue’ light signals to the retina that it is not yet night-time.
This suppresses the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, making us less tired and pushing back the body clock.
But it seems to happen more in children than in adults, according to the review published in the journal Paediatrics.
One study found when grown-ups and schoolchildren were exposed to the same amount of light at the same brightness, children’s melatonin fell by almost twice the amount.
It means children with smartphones in their bedroom could lose much more sleep than their parents who take the same devices to bed.
More than a third of 12 to 15-year-olds in Britain have internet-enabled devices like tablets and laptops in their bedrooms.
Almost half of five to 15-year-olds have a television in their bedroom, with 43 per cent of boys this age also having a games console.
Dr LeBourgeois said: ‘The vast majority of studies find that kids and teens who consume more screen-based media are more likely to experience sleep disruption.
‘With this paper, we wanted to go one step further by reviewing the studies that also point to the reasons why digital media adversely affects sleep.’
The review suggests that blue light from electronic devices may most damage the sleep of children who have not yet reached their teenage years.
With any form of light, even if dim, they are more likely to suppress sleep hormone melatonin in the evening hours before bedtime.
‘Through the young eyes of a child, exposure to a bright blue screen in the hours before bedtime is the perfect storm for both sleep and circadian disruption,’ Dr LeBourgeois said.
Sleep is particularly important for children because studies show without it they take more risks, put on more weight and struggle more psychologically.
The ‘psychological stimulation’ of digital media, whether it’s exposure to violent media or texting with friends, can also sabotage sleep by boosting ‘cognitive arousal’ in the brain.
The authors state that children and teenagers who leave a phone or computer on overnight in their bedroom are significantly more likely to have trouble sleeping.
A recent study of almost 500 teenagers found more than 60 per cent kept their mobile phones with them when they went to bed and around half used them as an alarm.
My Top Tips
Limit your child’s device use in the last hour before their bedtime.
Turn off all electronic media devices, including yours, at bedtime, and charge them in a central location outside your bedroom.
Remove ALL electronic devices from your child or teenager’s bedroom, including TVs, video games, computers, tablets and mobile phones.
Be a good role model. ‘Walk Your Talk; & make sure that you do all of the above yourself, too!