How technology is damaging children’s sleep patterns

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Children work on iPads in Medford, Mass., in a Sept.18, 2014 file photo. CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Stephan Savoia

If you have children, you know sleep is so important for them to function well.

Rested kids are better behaved — they’re more alert and they’re happier.

But children’s sleep patterns are being challenged by today’s obsession with digital technology, said Dr. Smita Naidoo, a child and adolescent psychiatrist.

LISTEN: Do you have a strict no-screen time policy before bed for your kids?
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She thought it was so important she even co-wrote a children’s book about it, all about a little girl and her pet hedgehog.

“Sleep is very important, especially in children,” Naidoo said.

“Sleep not only helps with brain health, it also actually helps with memory and integration of all the stuff your children learn during the school day.”

That’s when technology comes in.

Naidoo said technology can affect children’s behaviour, socialization and, of course, sleep.

“When you’re holding a cellphone, the light is directly centered on your eyes, so guess what, that amount of concentration of light actually affects the body’s production of melatonin,” she said.

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She said this is why there’s been so much talk staying away from screens before bed — Naidoo recommended spending at least two hours without screens before settling down to sleep.

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“The truth is, even though technology is changing, what has stayed the same is absolutely two hours before bedtime you should have no screen time,” she said.

Naidoo recommended setting up an “anchor time” — a time at which the whole family goes to bed, during the week and on weekends.

Also, a glass of warm milk, which releases tryptophan, an amino acid that can help to induce sleep.

“So if you’re looking for a natural way of helping your child fall asleep, it’s always routine, environment and a hot chocolate glass of milk,” Naidoo said.

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