Tiring Tech: Electronics and Sleep Disturbance in Kids

Bright Screens and Melatonin Production

Does your toddler have trouble drifting off to sleep? Does she consistently wake up cranky or disoriented, complaining that she’s slept poorly? Well, she’s certainly not alone.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, sleep difficulties in children are on the rise; one in ten children reportedly suffer from abnormal sleep cycles, resulting in restlessness at night and extreme irritability the following day. While there are a variety of things that could be inhibiting your child’s sleep pattern, there’s a growing body of research suggesting that the bright lights from TV screens and tablet devices could be having a negative impact on your child’s natural melatonin production. Simply put, your iPad could be tricking your child’s brain into thinking that it’s daytime, making it increasingly difficult for them to wind down and drift off at night.

That being said, if you’ve gotten into the habit of sharing experiences on the iPad with your child before sending them off to bed, you might want to dial back the brightness setting on the screen. A little less light could be all it takes to make bedtime easier for your baby… and you.

Why Melatonin and Light Don’t Mix

Bright Screen and ChildMelatonin, the chemical that signals to your brain that it’s time to sleep, is triggered by darkness. When the eyes are exposed to the intense brightness of a screen for a prolonged period of time, the brain naturally blocks the production of melatonin, leaving the viewer wide-awake, sometimes for hours. Disrupting your melatonin production also throws off your circadian rhythms, or your sleep/wake cycles. Additional studies have shown that disrupted circadian rhythms can cause mood swings and problems with concentration.

Understanding Your Child’s Brain

It’s worth noting that your child’s brain is extremely sensitive to external environmental stimulus. This is because her brain is still actively growing and changing; it’s still trying to sort out the cycle of being awake and being asleep. The unnatural brightness of your tablet device right before bed could be just enough to confuse your toddler’s mind, making it impossible for her to fall asleep quickly.

How to Tell If Your Child Is Having Trouble Sleeping

Just because your child sleeps for eight to ten hours a night, doesn’t necessarily mean she’s getting the rest she needs. Children require a great deal of restorative sleep, or deep sleep, in order to fully recharge their batteries. Without the proper levels of melatonin, it can take children longer to reach this critical phase of rest. Signs that your child might be struggling to get enough shuteye include:

  • Dark, persistent circles under the eyes
  • Decreased memory and poor focus
  • Complaints about not being able to sleep
  • Difficulty waking in the morning
  • Irritability and unexplainable mood shifts

Luckily, you can take some simply steps to help ensure that your child’s brain is producing the proper amounts of melatonin. First, never use a television show to help your child wind-down – this will produce the exact opposite effect. Sharing an interactive book experience with your child is a great option, provided you tone down the brightness of your tablets screen.

Adjusting the Brightness of Your iPad Device

To quickly adjust the brightness setting on an iPad running iOS 7, simply flick up from the base of your screen to access the Control Center. The brightness controls are located on the right-hand side  (look for the sun icon) of the panel. Move the slider to the left to bring the brightness down a few notches.

Adjusting screen brightness on iOS 7

Slide the indicator left to adjust the brightness of your Apple device.

On an iOS 6 device, double click the Home button to reveal the multitasking bar. The brightness slider is located on the left-hand side of the panel.

If you’re going to share an iPad experience with your child prior to bed, make sure that it’s a soothing one, like the Going to Bed Book or Goodnight Moon. Follow-up story time with a relaxing bath and plenty of hugs and kisses in order to lull your child into a deep and happy sleep.

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