There is a growing epidemic of tired and sleep-deprived kids in the U.S. and research shows a major cause is the gadgets that have become a universal part of going to bed.
Night time exposure to blue light—mainly from computers, smartphones, tablets and e-readers—prevents the release of melatonin, the hormone that tells the body when it should sleep. Children and teens are particularly susceptible; even when exposed to just one-tenth as much blue light as adults, teenagers suppressed more melatonin.
The effect, explains Bertrand De Silva, MD, a respected expert in sleep and health issues at St. Jude Medical Center, is to literally reset a child’s body clock. “Blue light therapy is often used to treat sleep disorders because of its ability to shift the sleep-wake cycle to earlier or later,” he explains. “Each night children and teenagers are effectively administering blue light therapy to themselves, making it impossible to fall asleep and wreaking havoc on their sleep pattern.”
It'll make you unpopular, but limit your young child's entertainment screen time to 2 hours or less per day.
The result is a vicious cycle of a 3 a.m. bedtimes, waking up sleep deprived, too many caffeinated drinks, followed by more blue light therapy. The consequences go far beyond dozing in class. “Chronic sleep deprivation, which for teenagers means less than 8 or 9 hours of sleep, is a major cause of hyperactivity, poor school performance, depression, anxiety and outbursts of anger,” explains Dr. De Silva, board-certified in sleep medicine, internal medicine, pulmonology and critical care. “Lack of sleep is also a major factor in obesity, high blood pressure and other health risks.”
Several free apps are available that automatically warm up the colors on your various screens – more reds and yellows and less blues – at sunset and returns them to normal at sunrise. Reducing the blue light means some vibrancy is lost, which is not a bad thing says Dr. De Silva. “In the two or three hours before bedtime, try to minimize computer or tablet use to what is necessary to complete homework. And once in bed, encourage your child to read books with paper pages, not electronic ones.”
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.