published Sunday, March 9th, 2014

Baumgardner: Losing sleep over electronic devices

By Julie Baumgardner

Have you ever awakened in the middle of the night and checked for email or text messages? Chances are, if you have done this, your kids have, too.

A recent poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation revealed interesting findings when it comes to families and their sleep patterns. Of those surveyed, 89 percent of adults and 75 percent of children have at least one electronic device in their bedrooms. While a television was the most common device, 45 percent of parents and 30 percent of children had a tablet or smartphone in their bedroom when they go to bed at night.

According to the survey, 26 percent of parents surveyed and 16 percent of children sent or read emails and text messages after initially going to sleep. While technology has become commonplace in the bedroom, the duration and quality of sleep appears to suffer when children and adults leave them on past bedtime.

The study found that sleep quality was significantly worse for children who sometimes left the television, tablet/smartphone or music player on at night. Children who leave such devices on get less sleep on school nights than other children; according to parents' estimates, a difference of up to nearly one hour on average per night.

Parents also have a more negative view of the quality of their child's sleep if the child leaves electronics on while sleeping. This holds true even with older children, who are more likely to leave electronics on. Teens with left-on devices are estimated to get, on average, half an hour less sleep on school nights.

"For children, a good night's sleep is essential to health, development and performance in school," says Kristen L. Knutson, a biomedical anthropologist who researches sleep at the University of Chicago. "We found that, when parents take action to protect their children's sleep, their children sleep better."

The National Sleep Foundation shares these tips to improve your child's sleep:

• Make sleep a healthy priority in your family's busy schedule. Children ages 6-10 need 10-11 hours of sleep. Older children need 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep.

• Set appropriate and consistent bedtimes for yourself and your children.

• Know how your child is using electronics in the bedroom. Create a plan for appropriate use at night and set boundaries about use before and after bedtime.

• Educate your family on how light from electronic device screens can interfere with sleep.

• Talk to your child about the importance of sleep for health and well-being.

• Create a sleep-supportive bedroom and home environment, dimming the lights prior to bedtime and controlling the temperature; in most cases, temperatures above 75 degrees and below 54 degrees will disrupt sleep.

• Encourage activities such as reading or listening to music before bedtime instead of watching TV, playing video games or surfing the Web.

• Make sure children's activities, including homework, can be completed without interfering with bedtimes.

Research shows, when it comes to technology, kids are following their parent's lead.

"Parents need to be good role models in their responsible use of electronics and their children will follow suit," says Monique K. LeBourgeois, a psychologist who researches sleep at University of Colorado Boulder.

It may be hard to resist, but setting the tone for a good night's rest can lead to a happier, healthier home.

Julie Baumgardner is the president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at julieb@firstthings.org.

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