Technology is an ever-present part of our lives. From the computer you work on to smartphone you use to connect with friends and family, there is rarely a day that we go without some sort of screen in front of our faces. For many of us, daily use of screen-based technology didn’t become a part of lives until we were into our teens or even adulthood; but today’s children are being introduced to the latest innovations earlier and earlier. As a result, doctors are seeing the effect it has on our little one’s growth and development.
“Technology, at its core, can be beneficial,” explains DeFuniak Springs-based pediatrician, Dr. Dale Volquartsen. “It makes important tasks easier and quicker for many of us including our children. Where it becomes a problem is when it negatively affects a child’s health, and that’s just what we are seeing when it comes to screen-based technology and our kids’ sleeping habits.”
As Dr. Volquartsen explains, studies have shown that too much technology use close to bedtime can inhibit a child’s ability to get a restful night of sleep. In fact, the greatest hindrance to a restful sleep for our children today is the presence of electronics in bedrooms.
“The main perpetrators are laptops, tablets, smartphones and televisions,” he says. “These all emit blue light from their screens and it is that blue light, when overexposed to it, that has been shown to negatively affect sleep patterns and make it difficult not only for your child to fall asleep but also to stay asleep.”
Beyond blue light, technology-use before bed can affect sleep on other levels as well. These including causing excessive brightness in sleeping areas and over-stimulating children with content when their minds should be winding down.
“Anyone who has a child knows that entertainment aimed at them has so much going on,” explains Dr. Volquartsen. “From quick actions to loud noises and colorful scenes, it is enough to make anyone’s brain feel busy and overwhelmed. Now, consider a child whose brain hasn’t reached full maturity yet and therefore doesn’t process things as quickly as an adult usually can. It takes them longer to recover from that over-stimulation and when it occurs near bedtime, that leads to a decrease in the quality of and number of hours they’re actually sleeping.”
To decrease the risk of reduced sleep time, Dr. Volquartsen recommends setting a bedtime for all electronics 60 minutes before the child’s personal bed time. This will allow the child’s brain the appropriate time to reset before its needs to fall asleep. Dr. Volquartsen also recommends that when it’s time to go to sleep, your children’s bedroom becomes a no-tech zone and that it is dark and quiet. In fact, it would be wise to keep the bedroom free of electronics all the time.
“The last thing you want to happen after your child has fallen asleep is for a noise or light from a notification to wake them up,” he says. “Keeping unnecessary electronics out of bedrooms during the night will eliminate that possibility.”
Lastly, Dr. Volquartsen recommends keeping a routine sleep schedule, including a set time that a child goes to bed and when you wake them up.
“Between the tech bedtime and your child’s actual bedtime, you can also introduce a calm activity such as reading them a story, giving them a bath, introducing a simple meditation or a time to pray. Whatever you choose, you will want to make sure you do it every night, so your child’s brain can recognize the pattern that this activity means sleep is soon.” Prevent their exposure to frightening media as well realizing that what would never alarm us as parents could still be very alarming to a young child who has limited ability to discern between reality and make believe. Even a simple cartoon can generate fear and nightmares in the young child.
“Regardless whether they are related to tech, sleep issues are something you always want to discuss with your child’s pediatrician,” concludes Dr. Volquartsen. “They could be a normal part of growth and development or there could be something more at play, but your pediatrician can definitely help you figure out how to get your child the rest they need to grow and to thrive.”
Dr. Dale Volquartsen is board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and cares for patients at White-Wilson Pediatric Clinic in DeFuniak Springs, Florida. He is now accepting patients from birth to age 18. To learn more about him and his approach to patient care or to schedule an appointment online, click here.