Last updated on Jun 21st, 2021 at 03:23 pm

With their brain, sleep patterns and eyes still developing, children are particularly vulnerable to the sleep-disrupting effects of screen time

This according to a sweeping review of the literature published in the journal Pediatrics.

“The vast majority of studies find that kids and teens who consume more screen-based media are more likely to experience sleep disruption,” says first author Monique LeBourgeois, an associate professor in the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“With this paper, we wanted to go one step further by reviewing the studies that also point to the reasons why digital media adversely affects sleep.”

Screen time linked to delayed bedtime in 90% of kids

Of more than five dozen studies looking at youths ages five to 17 from around the world, 90 percent have found that more screen time is associated with delayed bedtime, fewer hours of sleep and poorer sleep quality.

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Why is this?

Biological, neurological and environmental factors all play a role.

Developing eyes are more sensitive

Because their eyes are not fully developed, children are more sensitive than adults to the impact of light on the internal body clock.

“Light is our brain clock’s primary timekeeper,” LeBourgeois says, explaining that when light hits the retina in the eye in the evening hours it suppresses the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, delaying sleepiness and pushing back the timing of the body clock.

“We know younger individuals have larger pupils, and their lenses are more transparent, so their exposure and sensitivity to that light is even greater than in older individuals.”

One study found that when adults and school-age children were exposed to the same amount and intensity of light, the children’s melatonin levels fell twice as much. Studies have also shown that short-wavelength ‘blue light’ – ubiquitous in hand-held electronics – is particularly potent at suppressing melatonin.

Children are more sensitive than adults to the impact of blue screen light on the internal body clock.

“Through the young eyes of a child, exposure to a bright blue screen in the hours before bedtime is the perfect storm for both sleep and circadian disruption,” LeBourgeois says.

Violent media and texting with friends

The ‘psychological stimulation’ of digital media – whether it’s exposure to violent/exciting media or texting with friends – can also sabotage sleep.

Children who leave a phone or computer on overnight in their bedroom are significantly more likely to have trouble sleeping. More than 75 percent of youths have screen-based media in their bedrooms, 60 percent interact with them in the hour before bedtime, and 45 percent use their phone as an alarm.

Recommendations for parents

LeBourgeois offers these recommendations for parents:

  • Limit children’s media use in the hour before bedtime.
  • Turn off all electronic media devices, including yours, at bedtime, and charge them in a central location outside the bedrooms.
  • Remove all electronic media from your child or teen’s bedroom, including TVs, video games, computers, tablets and cell phones.

Source: University of Colorado Boulder via

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