There have been a lot of articles and studies over the past couple of decades about where American kids rank against their peers around the world. Unfortunately, one category in which U.S. kids are world leaders is sleep deprivation.
A recent study conducted by researchers at Boston College found that American students are 30% more sleep-deprived than the international average. Nearly three-quarters of 9 and 10-year-olds do not get enough sleep; that figure rises to 80% by the time the kids are 13 and 14.
The lack of sleep has a number of serious consequences, researchers say. Students who are closer to the recommended 7-9 hours per night have better memories, better concentration, and better performance in school. Unfortunately, the negative effects of sleep deprivation can spill over to adequately-rested students, since teachers often have to tailor classes to accommodate sleepy and dozing children.
Not surprisingly, technology plays a significant role in keeping our kids awake. A large percentage of children, particularly as they get older, keep their phones and tablets in their bedrooms and even in their beds as they fall asleep. Scientists say that the bright light of a smartphone screen can disrupt a child’s cycadian rhythms, fooling his or her brain into thinking that it’s time to stay awake.
More importantly, the presence of a constantly-buzzing or beeping device can disrupt sleep throughout the night. Children find it very difficult to resist the compulsive urge to respond immediately to texts (part of the ongoing socialization pressure of adolescence). As a result, pediatricians are warning of a sharp rise of a phenomenon they call “sleep-texting.”
According to sleep experts, it takes each of us 2-3 minutes to fully wake up, to the point where we are conscious of what we are doing in the middle of the night. Children, of course, can send numerous texts long before the cognitive parts of their brain kick in. This significantly increases the odds that he or she will say or do something inappropriate, something that would be less likely to happen in the cold light of day.
Based on the conversations that I’ve had with parents over the years, children are more adamant about devices in their bedroom than almost any other issue. Understandably, kids want to stay connected with their friends, and their expectations of privacy steadily increase as they get older.
Given the mounting evidence of sleep disruption and the resulting negative effects, parents should give serious thought to adopting a family-wide “Goodnight Cellphone (and/or Computer)” policy. For instance, wifi routers can be configured to shut down at a particular time at night, say 10:30 or 11pm. Since smartphones have cellular connections, some parents require all mobiles to spend the night in a “family charging center,” often conveniently located in the parents’ bedroom.
The reality is that electronic devices are so compelling for kids that they will use them as much and as often as possible. Have you put time limits on device usage in your household? How much of a struggle is it to enforce them?