Most children’s lives are now dominated by electronic devices. When it comes to academics, entertainment, and communication, kids rely heavily on screen-based devices. There are many educational and social advantages to using technology, but there are also some drawbacks. One thing to be concerned about is the potential impact of technology on sleep.
Children’s sleep quality deteriorated as technology became more widespread in daily life. More than a third of youngsters and a majority of teenagers are chronically sleep deprived. There are a number of ways that electronic gadgets could alter the amount of sleep that children get at night. Using screens for longer periods of time at night means less time for sleep, and exciting content may help counteract this. The blue light emitted by electronic devices is another means through which they may interfere with your sleep.
What Is Blue Light?
Light waves of various lengths make up the visible light spectrum. While red and violet light wavelengths are the longest and shortest, respectively, Short-wavelength blue light is a sort of light that helps people stay attentive and productive. Additionally, blue light regulates our sleep-wake cycle (or circadian rhythm) in the most significant way.
What Are Common Sources of Blue Light?
Computer monitors, gaming systems and some electronic books all emit artificial blue light when they are turned on or when they are connected to a power source. As it turns out, we’re not only exposed to blue light from electronic devices. The sun is the primary source of our blue light exposure. LED and fluorescent bulbs, both of which are becoming increasingly popular in homes due to their lower energy consumption, also emit blue light.
Blue Light and Melatonin
Blue light inhibits the generation of melatonin, a hormone that induces tiredness. The rising and lowering of the sun helped humans develop a sleep-wake cycle that is based on the seasons. When the sun is the main source of light, melatonin levels are low during the day, rise after sunset, peak in the middle of the night, and then gradually decline until the next morning when we are not exposed to artificial light.
Daytime exposure to blue light, whether from the sun or another light source, has been shown to help people feel more energised and focused. Blue light exposure in the daytime has also been demonstrated to improve sleep quality and length. By tricking the brain into not generating melatonin before bed, utilizing devices that emit artificial blue light throughout the evenings and nights causes our natural sleep-wake cycle to be disrupted. Because of this, we don’t get as much sleep as we need at night.
Health Effects of Blue Light on Children
There is rising evidence that our children’s health is being negatively impacted by their continual exposure to artificial blue light.
Let’s take a closer look at five of the most critical aspects of their health.
Our internal clocks are thrown off balance when we’re exposed to blue light all night long.
Melatonin, a hormone that helps humans go asleep and stay asleep throughout the night, is released by the brain as the sun sets. Because melatonin production is suppressed when exposed to high levels of blue light at night from artificial sources, the brain receives a message to stay awake.
Your child’s brain doesn’t know what time it is since they spend all day and night in front of screens and artificial light sources.
The melatonin-suppressing effects of bright light are particularly noticeable in children. When exposed to the same amount of light, children’s melatonin levels dropped twice as much as those of adults, according to one study. Compared to older children, prepubescent youngsters are more vulnerable to melatonin suppression.
Among children and adolescents, a 2015 review of 36 studies examined the connection between sleep and digital device use. In this study, it was discovered that those who utilized digital media devices before going to bed had shorter sleep durations and later bedtimes. Sleep deprivation among adolescents has been on the rise since 2012, when cellphones and other portable displays became a necessity.
Screen use at night isn’t the only thing that interrupts sleep. In a study of Norwegian teenagers, researchers discovered that screen time both during the day and at night had an adverse influence on sleep.
This is concerning, given the critical role sleep plays in a child’s and adolescent’s rapid growth and development. If the essential sleep hormone is repressed from birth, they simply will not obtain the appropriate number of hours of sleep for proper growth and development. There is the added benefit of a healthy nighttime sleep schedule for infants and toddlers, as well.
When it comes to affecting children’s melatonin generation, blue light exposure at night has been shown to have detrimental effects. Poor sleep quality and sleep loss can have serious repercussions in a wide range of domains. It’s been shown to be associated with lowered academic performance and impaired learning ability. Poor sleep and tiredness are clearly detrimental to your child’s academic performance.
But it’s more than just sleep deprivation. Having your youngster exposed to high levels of blue light may be affecting his or her brain development.
It has been found that children who spend more than two hours a day using screens — such as cellphones, tablets, and gaming gadgets — are less intelligent. Preschoolers who spend more than two hours a day in front of a screen are eight times more likely to develop attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, according to the latest research.
More children and adolescents have been suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety in the last decade, which is linked to increased exposure to light at night and a dramatic increase in the usage of blue light-emitting displays. Too much artificial blue light may be to blame if your youngster is temperamental, unable to manage with emotions, and lacking in enthusiasm and motivation.
By disrupting the body’s natural rhythms and activating the brain, high levels of blue light exposure may be damaging children’s mental health.
Insufficient sleep is linked to mood changes in children, and blue light exposure at night has a major detrimental impact on this. Think about how weary your child’s behavior and mental state will be!
The use of smartphones after bedtime has been linked to poor sleep, depression, and suicidal behavior among teenagers, according to numerous research.
Adults who slept in a room with no blue light were shown to have a considerably higher risk of depression than those who slept in a room with low blue light (approximately 5 lux). Knowing how sensitive children and teenagers are to blue light, we might suppose that the risk of depression may be considerably higher in this age group than we previously thought.
Your youngster may be experiencing eye pain, headaches, and hazy vision as a result of their schoolwork. If this is the case, excessive exposure to screens and bright lights may be to blame.
High amounts of blue light exposure pose a serious threat to eye health since it can penetrate deep into the eye and reach the retina.
As the eyes attempt to constantly refocusing, they are put under a lot of strain by the blue light from displays. Anecdotal and scientific data suggests that excessive screen use in youngsters causes eye strain. Burning, aching, and fatigued eyes, as well as headaches, impaired vision, and difficulty focusing are all symptoms of this.
Studies have also revealed that children’s increasing rates of myopia (nearsightedness) are linked to increased screen usage, lack of exposure to natural light, and the use of fluorescent desk lamps.
The prevalence of obesity and weight increase in youngsters is increasing. Not only may being overweight impair their self-esteem, but it is also a risk factor for developing long-term health problems like diabetes.
Could displays and LEDs emitting artificial blue light be a contributing factor?
More time spent watching television has been shown to increase a child’s BMI (Body Mass Index).
There are other forms of media as well. Higher levels of exposure to artificial light in the home and classroom were found to be associated with a higher BMI in preschoolers in a study conducted in 2016.
As a result of persistent blue light exposure, poor sleep and shorter sleep durations in childhood have been linked to a higher BMI in adulthood.
This raises the possibility that children’s weight gain may continue into adulthood as a result of the negative effects of artificial light exposure. Even though we don’t know exactly how this affects sleep, exhaustion, and physical activity, we do know that increased blue light exposure and screen time is linked to these issues.
Common Sources of Blue Light for Children
Using technology is so natural to children that it frequently feels like an extension of their own bodies.
So, how much blue light do children get exposed to on a daily basis?
About 60% of children’s screen time is spent watching television, with over half of 12- to 13-year-olds owning a television in their bedroom, according to the 2015 “Growing Up in Australia” report.
A new set of startling statistics were uncovered by the Australian Child Health Poll in 2017. According to the study, one-third of preschoolers, two-thirds of elementary school students, and nearly all high school students have their own smartphone or tablet.
Teenagers spend more time in front of a screen than any other age group, including television, computers, laptops, gaming devices, smartphones, and tablets. These workers put in an average of nearly 44 hours every week—more than 6 hours a day!
Children between the ages of six and twelve spent an average of 32 hours a week in front of a screen. Infants and toddlers averaged 14 hours of weekly screen time for two to five-year-olds and 26 hours for two to five-year-olds.
As a result, 86% admit to using screens to keep their children occupied when they are under the age of six.
As of 2019, it’s safe to presume that these alarming numbers have gone up! Snapchat, Instagram and other social media apps are being targeted at children because of their accessibility and ease of use.
LED light bulbs are used in classrooms and houses instead of the traditional incandescent lights, which wastes a lot of energy but produces a lot of light. In addition, many children utilize LED nightlights as early as the age of three or four years old.
Does Blue Light Cause Sleep Issues in Children?
A number of studies have found that youngsters who spend a lot of time in front of a screen are more likely to be late to bed and to fall asleep more quickly. Many research in adults have shown that light exposure in the evening and the usage of blue light-emitting devices before bed have an influence on sleep, despite the fact that these observational studies cannot prove a cause-and-effect relationship. Blue light has been shown to impair sleep in adults, but our findings implies that the same may be true for youngsters, who have an increased sensitivity to light-related melatonin suppression.
Nevertheless, further research is required to reveal whether blue light disrupts sleep or if children who already struggle with sleep are more likely to use screens (and be exposed to blue light) before bed and at night to shed light on this question. In other words, it’s possible that screen time affects sleep just as much as sleep affects screen time, and vice versa.
Effects of Sleep Loss in Kids
The importance of sleep in childhood growth and functioning is well-documented, despite the need for greater research into the link between blue light exposure and sleep in children. Sleep deprivation has been connected to inattention, impulsivity, and trouble self-regulating, according to studies. Children who don’t get enough sleep are also more likely to have difficulty in school. Some children with sleep deprivation may be misdiagnosed with ADHD because their symptoms resemble those of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Because sleep releases chemicals that promote muscle growth, a healthy immune system, and cell repair, children with sleep deprivation may suffer from these consequences.
How Can You Reduce Exposure to Blue Light?
Because sleep is so vital to a child’s mental and physical well-being, ensuring that they get a good night’s sleep is essential. When it comes to blue light and your child’s sleep, there are a few things that you and your child may do together if you are worried. Among the first things to attempt are the following:
- Set a technological curfew: Establish a nightly timetable that includes a one-hour cutoff for electronic use before going to bed. In order to help your youngster remember to turn off the screen at a set time, you may wish to utilize an alarm clock. Before going to bed, consider doing something relaxing like reading, doing a puzzle, drawing, painting, or stretching. In addition, parents should set a good example by limiting their children’s screen use in the hours leading up to bedtime.
- It may be tough for some children to give up their electronics in the bedroom, but keeping them out of the bedroom and away from the mattress can have a significant impact on the amount of blue light they are exposed to while they sleep. As a result, there’s less of a chance of getting startled awakened by messages, calls, or other notifications in the hours leading up to bedtime.
- Protect yourself from the ill effects of blue light by using blue light-blocking glasses or sunglasses. Apps that block out blue light are also an option. They alter the color temperature of a tablet or smartphone screen by shifting the light spectrum toward warmer wavelengths.
- “Night mode” and dark mode” choices are available in many electronic devices, which can reduce blue light exposure by turning off the screen’s backlight, making it appear black.
- Using red light bulbs for reading lamps and nightlights at night may help you sleep better because it does not interfere with the creation of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. The long wavelengths of yellow and orange light are also viable possibilities in the visible light spectrum.
- Getting enough strong light during the day helps synchronize circadian cycles, which in turn helps you sleep better at night. During the day, make sure your youngster has access to plenty of natural light.
Setting limits on screen time, especially for teens, can be a challenge. Regularly discuss the importance of sleep and how blue light may affect it with your children or teenagers, especially if they are younger. Working together to develop guidelines for technology use could be beneficial. In addition, parents and guardians can serve as role models by enforcing technological curfews and limiting the use of electronic devices in the bedroom.
What do you think?