Screen-based technology: The bane to sleeping pattern of children and adolescents

“It’s bed time, sweetheart.” mom declared.

“I’ll sleep later. I am at the best part now.” replied the young boy who’s busy playing with his newly downloaded mobile game.

“It’s way past your bed time!”  exclaimed mom with a slight hint of annoyance triggered by her son’s disobedience.

“But mom, I am not sleepy yet!’ the young boy protested with his gaze still glued to the iPad screen.

“Young man, you haven’t done anything all day except staring at your iPad! Turn it off and go to bed now or you’re screen-grounded for a week!” mom said sternly, giving her son the ultimatum.

The scenario depicted above is probably a peek into a modern household in this digital era.  Let’s face it, that’s probably one of the numerous banes of digital technology and the very reason why Steve Jobs (the founder of Apple, one of the biggest tech companies in the world) limited how much technology his children could use at home.

The excessive use of screen-based technology has not only disrupted the social development of children and adolescents but has taken its toll on their sleep. A mounting body of evidence has pointed to the correlation between the uses of screen-based electronic devices and disturbed sleeping pattern, in the form of delayed-sleep and reduction of total sleep duration. A recent scientific review published in the November 2017 issue of the journal Pediatrics has further corroborated this finding.

Young boy with tablet in hand

While it’s fairly obvious that unrestricted daily screen time has caused sleep time to be cut short, researchers deduce that this is made worse by consuming media with psychologically-stimulating content that can induce alertness.

Moreover, the use of self-luminous devices (such as smartphones, tablets and laptops) which emit short-wavelength blue light before bedtime has been shown to reduce the production of sleep-promoting hormone, melatonin which can further increase sleep onset latency. A study in 2015 suggested that adolescents may be more sensitive to this effect where a mere one hour exposure to blue light-emitting device such as a phone could suppress melatonin production by 23% whereas a two-hour screen time could cause up to 38% reduction!

Using mobile phone in the dark

With the brain and body of children and adolescents still developing, sleep skimping and circadian disruption are in fact the perfect recipes for detrimental health consequences. Some of the known health issues in the long run include impaired mental function, depression, behavioural disorders, poor vision and obesity.

In view of this, children and adolescents are advised to limit their screen time especially before bedtime. While parents should cut down their dependence on these ‘eye nannies’, they should also reduce their own obsession with the screen-based technologies in order to make time for their children. The key is to be the ‘present and attentive’ companions to your children when they are growing up*.

 

*An important reminder to myself!

 

References:

  1. Monique al. (2017). Digital Media and Sleep in Childhood and Adolescence. Pediatrics 140(s2).
  2. Hale, L., & Guan, S. (2015). Screen Time and Sleep among School-Aged Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Literature Review. Sleep Medicine Reviews21, 50–58. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2014.07.007
  3. Figueiro, M. & D. Overington (2015). Self-luminous devices and melatonin suppression in adolescents. Lighting Research & Technology 48(8): 966-975.
  4. http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-why-steve-jobs-never-let-his-kids-use-ipad-apple-social-media-2017-3/?IR=T
  5. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/steve-jobs-apple-ipad-children-technology-birthday-a6893216.html
  6. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/11/fashion/steve-jobs-apple-was-a-low-tech-parent.html

 

John Tiong
John Tiong

PhD, MPharm, RPh

A pharmacist, pharmacy lecturer and researcher. A critical thinker with fervor for thought sharing.

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