Research shows that the rate of sleep disorders among teens has nearly doubled since 2013. Experts say social media and phone use is significantly to blame.
For parents at their wits’ end trying to sleep-train babies and toddlers, Clair Lyons’ story is a cautionary tale. Her son, aged 17, is still not sleeping through.
The UK-based mum of three has tried everything: from massage and pillow sprays, to essential oils and an anxiety blanket. But “he finds it hard to calm down.”
Lyons happens to work at a sleep clinic, so she’s more aware of most of the impact of device use on children’s sleep, and has instituted a strict bedtime routine.
“I have always restricted his iPad and TV use,” she told The Guardian, “and even now as a teenager I make sure his phone is out of the bedroom and he does not have use of it - or his iPad - at least for an hour before going to bed.”
Sleep deprivation has been shown to make kids more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, impulsive behaviour and impaired thinking
It’s a message today’s parents urgently need to hear. According to new data from NHS Digital, England’s information and technology partner to the national healthcare system, hospital admissions for sleep disorder among under 16s rose by 42%.
“It’s amazing how many of my children’s school friends are allowed to play on their phones at night,” says Lyons. “They are getting four hours’ sleep and then cannot get up for school in the morning.”
The mental health implications of sleep deprivation are ominous, note experts, especially the link to anxiety in children - which in itself has been linked to social media overuse and 24/7 connectivity.
A recent study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry showed sleep duration among children aged 9 to 11 influences “elements of mental health including depression, anxiety, impulsive behavior and cognitive performance,” according to a report by the American Journal of Managed Care.
I’m increasingly seeing more and more young children sent to bed with a screen to help them fall asleep, when it is in fact disrupting their sleep and making falling asleep more difficult.”
The research found that the “behaviour problems” score for kids who had less than 7 hours’ sleep was 53% higher on average, and their cognitive (or thinking) score 7.8% lower than kids who’d had 9-11 hours’ sleep.
The role of device use in interrupting, delaying and/or eroding the quality of children’s sleep has been well established.
Notes Rachel Taylor, the founder of the Sleep Sanctuary, “The blue light emitted from phone, tablet, computer and TV screens disrupts natural melatonin production, which inhibits sleep.
"I’m increasingly seeing more and more young children sent to bed with a screen to help them fall asleep, when it is in fact disrupting their sleep and making falling asleep more difficult.”
Family Zone cyber experts agree that keeping bedrooms tech-free - and switching off all screens an hour before bedtime - are the two most important rules for protecting your child’s healthful sleep.
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