Technology, Bedrooms, Sleep & Reducing Harm

In this episode, we are going to be talking about why sleep is important to our kids,  how technology can affect sleep, and what parents and caregivers can do to reduce the challenges when it comes to technology and sleep deprivation in our kids based on the good evidence-based research, and why getting all technology out of the bedroom is so important! 

Resources mentioned:

Our Website: www.thewhitehatter.ca

Our FREE webbook “Parenting In An Online World” https://www.thewhitehatter.ca/book-list

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/whitehatterteam

Welcome to the White Hatter parenting in an online world podcast! On this podcast, we are going to take a more holistic approach to online safety in an “enlightening” and not “frightening” way, based facts and not fear. We will provide parents, caregivers, and educators with real-world examples, experiences, and evidence-based research that will help to keep our kids safer emotionally, psychologically, physically, and even socially when they are navigating today’s onlife world. Let’s get after it shall we!

Well…….welcome everyone, Darren with the White Hatter Team and I am excited to be your host, and In this episode, we are going to be talking about why sleep is important to our kids, how technology can affect sleep, what parents and caregivers can do to reduce the challenges when it comes to technology and sleep deprivation based upon the good evidence based research, and why getting all technology out of the bedroom is so important!

Here at the White Hatter, we are often asked by parents and caregivers “what can we do to reduce risks to our children online?” – well one of the first things a parent or caregiver can do to help reduce onlife risks to their kids – get any device that can connect to the internet out of their child’s bedrooms.  This includes smart TVs, computers, laptops, gaming consoles, and smartphones. All these devices allow a youth to communicate with others online. Many parents are unaware that gaming consoles allow access to text-based and voice-based communication with others when connected to the internet.
It has been our experience, that In most cases where we have helped a teen and their family because something less than desirable happened online, there are often some common denominators in play which include:

The Youth on a cellphone, computer, or gaming device – In their bedroom at night With Internet access – with No parental overwatch or supervision.
A second reason not to allow tech access in the bedroom – sleep deprivation issues, something that we will speak to later in this podcast.

For some perspective on the topic of today’s podcast, we decided to ask our 6,000+ Instagram followers, who are mostly teens, for their input on their tech use in their bedrooms. We asked teens to answer 4 basic questions, and within a 24-hour period, over 700 youth replied. Here are the results:
Question #1 – “Do you sleep with your phone in your bedroom at night?”
734 teens replied to this question with :
(78%) saying yes, and
(22%) saying no

Question #2 – “Do you answer messages on your phone that come through during the night?”
728 replied to this question with:
(27%) saying yes
(73%) saying no

Question #3 – “Do you text at night in your bedroom with your cellphone?”
530 replied to this question with:
46% saying yes
54% saying no

Question #4 – “Where do you keep your phone when you sleep?”
303 replied to this question with:
(31%): stating Bedside table/surface near the head of the bed
(18%): stating Another side of the room on a shelf or desk
(17%): stating Under the pillow,
(7%): stating On the floor by/under bed
(26%): stating in Another part of the house, including the family room, kitchen, or parent’s bedroom
So given the stats that I just provided, here’s the message from teens – over three-quarters (78%) of them do sleep with their phones in their rooms, and just over half (55%) stated that these phones were within arm’s reach when they go to bed. Half of those who responded (50%) stated that they text on their phones at night in their bedrooms.

Now this is not just a North American challenge, a recent 2022 study out of Australia found:
“A study of 250,000 Australian kids found 28 percent of eight to 11-year-olds, 57 percent of 12 to 14-year-olds, and 80 percent of those aged 15 and over send and receive messages and calls between 10pm and 6am at least once a week.” 

Parent Tip:
One reason to get cellphones, computers, and gaming devices out of the bedroom – when your kids go to bed at 9pm – many will actually be on their devices, under their covers so that you don’t see the glow of their phone, until all hours of the early morning – something known as “vamping” which is short for vampires given that vampires only came out at night

A second reason to get digital devices out of the bedrooms at night – Notifications such as text and status alerts on a smartphone, or computer, whether audio or vibration, can disrupt sleep and wake children and teens up during the night.
If there is one thing we have heard clearly from teachers, school counsellors, principals, and even teens themselves is how many students are coming to school tired. Why, because they are vamping on their devices to all hours of the morning and not getting enough sleep.

Hard to believe that in 1597, Shakespeare wrote
“Oh Sleep, Oh Gentle Sleep! Natures Soft Nurse”
Even back in 1597, people knew how important sleep was when it came to personal health.
Good sleep is important to our youth because:
It’s energy for the brain, which aids in learning, increases alertness, and helps memory.
It’s a biological necessity that allows us to perform effectively and safely.
It’s a developmental necessity for brain growth and maturation, and
It’s vital to our emotional, psychological, physical, and social wellbeing.

So How Much Sleep Is Needed?
According to the Canadian Pediatrics Association, youth between 6-12yrs require between 9-12hrs of good sleep every single night, while youth between 12-18yrs require between 8-10hrs of good sleep.  However, The challenge according to sleep expert Dr. Wendy Torxel – adolescents have a biological clock that disposes them to want to sleep later and wake up later. In other words, our kids are night owls by biological design.

Some parents blame the lack of sleep on technology, but teen sleep deprivation was already a concern identified by sleep experts prior to the smartphone and computer becoming commonplace. Many studies point to contributing factors such as school start times, combined with athletics and homework as the main culprit when it comes to sleep deprivation and our kids.  In early 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics called the problem of tired teens and I quote “a public health concern”.
Now has technology compounded sleep concerns? Absolutely, in fact, in 2017 the CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, stated,
“Our biggest rivals aren’t Amazon, YouTube, or even traditional broadcasters, our need of sleep is actually our main barrier to growth”
Thus why social media platforms have created techniques such as infinite scrolling on platforms like TikTok or Instagram, and autoplay on Netflix. Both are behavioral techniques designed to keep our attention in an attempt to bypass the need for sleep. This is where the term “bingwatching” was born

Important Note:
There is significant research to show us that there is a correlation between sleep deprivation and inhibited learning and being able to self-regulate emotions. In 2015 Stanford Children’s Health Sleep Center identified that the lack of sleep in our kids can lead to:
Inability to concentrate
Poor grades
Aggressiveness and delinquency
Drowsy-driving incidents
Anxiety, and
In 2021, the “Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study, authored by Dr. Caterina Stamoulis found:
“Preteens’ brain circuits are rapidly maturing, particularly those supporting higher-level thought processes like decision-making, problem-solving, and the ability to process and integrate information from the outside world. We show that inadequate sleep could have enormous implications for cognitive and mental health for individual children and at the population level.”
spearheaded by Boston Children’s Sleep Center,  this study reported out:
Shorter sleep durations are associated with less efficient, flexible, and resilient brain networks, and
Detrimental effects were widespread, from individual regions of the brain to large-scale circuits and the entire brain
Dr. Stamoulis further stated:
“ The network abnormalities we identified can potentially lead to deficits in multiple cognitive processes, including attention, reward, emotional regulation, memory, and the ability to plan, coordinate, and control actions and behaviours”

 Now What about the hype surrounding tech , Blue Light, and sleep
In 2015, a Harvard Study on how portable light-emitting devices, such as cell phones and computers affect sleep patterns reported out:
“We found that the use of these devices before bedtime prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep, delays the circadian clock, suppresses levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, reduces the amount, and delays the timing of REM sleep, and reduces alertness the following morning. The use of light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime also increases alertness at that time, which may lead users to delay bedtime at home. Overall, we found that the use of portable light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime has biological effects that may perpetuate sleep deficiency and disrupt circadian rhythms, both of which can have adverse impacts on performance, health, and safety.”
The Harvard researchers attributed the disruption of the circadian rhythms, which affects the release of melatonin, the drug that helps govern sleep, on the blue light that comes from electronic devices as the culprit. Further, the research found that 6.5hrs of “continual” exposure to blue-light could shift circadian rhythms as much as 3 hours.
Although the Harvard study is often cited as a reason why not to allow teens to have access to screens before bedtime, it was a little unrealistic given that they used 6.5hrs of intense and continual blue light exposure as a benchmark in an animal study where animals where strapped down and their eye were braced open and couldn’t be closed.
However, in a 2016 peer-reviewed study published in Journal of Psychiatric Research the researchers found:
“Use of blue light LED smartphones at night may negatively influence sleep and commission errors, it may not be enough to lead to significant changes in serum melatonin and cortisol levels”
In yet another 2016 peer-reviewed study published in National Library Of Medicine the researchers found:
“Screen-time is associated with poor sleep.  These findings cannot support the conclusion on causation.  Effect-cause remains a possibility: poor sleep may lead to increased screen-time.  However, exposure to smartphone screens, particularly around bedtime, may negatively impact sleep”

Recently In a 2021 peer-reviewed research study published in the Bio Electro Magnetics Journal the researchers found:
“This review paper shows that there is no consistent evidence on the effects of bluelight on the secretion of melatonin and Cortisol”
In yet another 2021 peer-reviewed study in the Sleep Health Journal the researchers found:
“Across our full study sample, there were no differences in sleep outcomes attributed to nightshift mode”
“The research suggests blue light may not be enemy number one when it comes to sleep quality”
“data showed that the only people who had better sleep outcomes were those that stayed away from screens entirely before bed”
Now In 2019,  Dr. Amy Orben and Dr. Andrew Przybylski with Oxford University released a study on this issue surrounding sleep and digital devices  and reported out:
“We found little evidence for substantial negative associations between digital-screen engagement—measured throughout the day or particularly before bedtime—and adolescent well-being.”
This study went further and stated:
“The findings suggest that the relationship between sleep and screen use in children is extremely modest. Every hour of screen time was related to 3 to 8 fewer minutes of sleep”

So if it’s not blue light, How Is Technology Affecting Sleep?
There are several newer studies that are drawing a strong correlation between using technology right up to the point of bedtime, and the impact it has on extending the time it takes for a teen to reach deep sleep.
In a 2016  peer-reviewed study again published in the National Library of Medicine, researchers found:
“exposure to smartphone screens, particularly around bedtime, may negatively impact sleep”

In a 2019 peer-reviewed study in the National Library of Medicine  where they studies 11,872 teens between the ages of 13-15yrs, researchers found:
“The findings indicate statistically and practically significant association between social media use and sleep patterns, particularly late sleep onset” 
Research is starting to show us that youth who are on their device right up to the point where they are putting their heads to pillow, have not allowed their brains time to what psychologists call “de-compress” (slow down) which can have a negative effect on the onset of deep sleep.
As a comparison, how many of you who are listening to me right now have gone to bed with something on your mind that you need to get done the next day, and you just can’t get it off your mind. This often results in trouble falling asleep and/or not having a good night’s sleep. Why, because your brain is fully engaged and switched on to what needs to get done the next day. When youth are on their devices right up to the point of bedtime, their brains are still fully engaged in what they were doing online. In fact, in a 2019 peer-reviewed study published in the sleep health journal, researchers found:
“Adolescents’ nighttime social media use was driven by concerns over negative consequences for real-world relationships if they disconnected (often reporting delayed bedtimes, insufficient sleep, and daytime tiredness). These concerns included the risk of offline peer exclusion from missing out on online interactions and the fear of social disapproval from violating norms around online availability and prompt responses.” – something known as “Fear Of Missing Out” (FOMO)
Given that the research in this specific area is evolving, we always like to error on the side of caution. Our recommendation, based upon current research to date – we should not allow teens to have access to their phones, or any other digital screen technology, a minimum of one hour before going to bed. Why, because this allows a teen’s brain to “decompress” or slow down which helps to facilitate falling a sleep quicker with our kids.

Often in our presentations, we will hear teens say that they need their phone in their room because they use it as an alarm clock. Here’s an easy fix to overcome this argument, buy them an alarm clock. The one that we recommend is called the “Sonic Bomb” 
This clock uses a 113-decibel alarm, bright blinking LED lights and comes with a remote bed shaker that vibrates the bed when the alarm goes off.
Now is your teen going to be angry that you will no longer allow them to have technology in their bedroom at night? YES, oh well, that is what makes us parents, and sometimes we parent have to say and do things that our kids are not going to like. That’s what makes us parents. As a friend and family counselor Ginger Henderson stated:
“When it comes to online parenting, sometimes being a child’s best friend often only enables less than desirable online behavior. Remember, enabling can often equal damaging behavior. Be your child’s best parent and not their best friend, there is a difference.”
Parent Tip:
We recommend that digital devices should be stored, docked, and charged in the parent’s bedroom at night, rather than in a public place like the kitchen, where it can still be easily accessed by your child in the middle of the night without your knowledge. There are a number of phone charging stations that are available on Amazon to meet your family’s specific needs https://amzn.to/3kosROZ. also, Make sure that the devices are turned off while storing and charging them in your room so that you are not disturbed by notifications that we guarantee these devices will receive at night!

Recently We helped one family where their child was so mad that mom and dad were no longer going to allow them to keep their phone in their bedroom, that the youth programed their phone’s alarm to go off every hour on the hour, and the parent had no idea how to turn the alarm off which kept them awake all night – smart kid!!!

Another question that is often posed to us by parents:
“Well Darren, What about the Blue Light from these devices harming our kids eyes”
In 2018, researchers at the University of Toledo released a study called, “Blue light Excited Retinal Intercepts Cellular Signaling”.  In this intense animal based study where “high intensity” blue light was used (unlike the low intensity blue light that tech devices utilize), researchers reported that extended periods of blue light could cause damage to the eyes. When this hit the media, it was pointed to by many special interest groups and parents as another reason why cellphones were bad from a health and wellness standpoint.  In fact, the eyeglass industry really latched onto this study to help support the sales of blue-filter lenses that were advertised to protect the eyes from the damaging effects of blue light. 
Dr. David Ramsey, Director of Ophthalmic Research at the Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, and one of the leading experts on the effects of blue light to the human eye, wrote an article called, “Will blue light from electronic devices increase my risk of macular degeneration and blindness?”  Here’s what Dr. Ramsey stated:
“Blue light from electronic devices is not going to increase the risk of macular degeneration or harm any other part of the eye.”
In 2019, here in Canada CBC Marketplace interviewed well respect medical eye experts across North America who echoed Dr. Ramsey’s statement
So does the low-intensity blue light from cellphones and computers cause damage to the human eye, the best experts and studies say no.  Do we use a blue filter in our prescription glasses? yes, we do. Why? to help offset some of the issues identified in the research surrounding eye strain when spending a lot of time in front of screens like we do (notice I stated eye strain and not eye damage – an important difference)
To also help reduce eye strain when using tech devices for extended periods of time, we have also adopted the American Academy of Ophthalmology 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes of sitting in front of a screen, take a 20-second break, and focus on an object that is about 20 feet away and blink as many times as you can. This will help to reduce dry eye, blurred vision, headaches, migraines, and sore necks all of which have been identified by ophthalmologists as a direct result of focusing too long on a screen.
Parent Tip:
Teach your kids who use technology, especially gamers, about the 20-20-20 rules.  Also, don’t be sucked into purchasing very expensive blue-light lenses thinking that they will prevent eye damage because of computer or phone use.

So what are the Takeaways for Parents and caregivers from today’s podcast:
Based upon the best sleep research to date, here’s what we recommend:
Limit screen time to 1 hour before bedtime – an exception could be an e-reader.
Keep technology out of the bedroom. We want to condition a developing youth brain that a bedroom is a place for sleep.
Although blue light is not as big of a health issue as is often touted by some, you can change screen illumination on your device which is often called “night mode”.
Create a sleep structure – however, during summer months this can be a challenge.
As the new school year approaches Start thinking about aligning teen sleep patterns sooner than later before the start of a new school year.
Remember, youth need between 8-10 hours of good restorative sleep every single night
Get your kids active (outside if possible) as this can promote good sleep. and
Be a good role model when it comes to your use of technology and sleep health.

Remember, be your child’s best parent and not their best friend when it comes to technology , there is a difference. Are your kids going to like some of the strategies that we recommended in this podcast, NOPE! Oh well that’s what makes us parents, and sometimes we parents have to say and do things our kids are’t going to like – that’s what make us PARENTS!

Remember parents you are not alone on this digital journey, we are here to help – don’t forget to check out our website at www.thewhitehatter.ca and our White Hatter Facebook page where there is a ton of free content to help parents and caregivers parent in today’s online world. As well, on our web site we outline all the programs that we offer to schools, families, youth groups, and even businesses when it comes to social media safety and digital literacy

Stay strong, be that mentor and digital sheep dog, From the White Hatter Team thank you for listening, and until our next podcast – have a great week everyone.

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