One question that we are often asked in clinical practice is regarding screen time, lighting and sleep.
Over the pandemic, sleep has become more of a preoccupation for many families – as technology has become a bigger part of life, there are concerns regarding the possible links to child and adolescent sleep issues. Sleep issues in children and young people is a real issue and it is important that there is greater awareness here. Approximately one third of children and more than half of teenagers do not get enough sleep. It is important to remember however that technology also has great benefits for children and young people and like everything in life, moderation is important.
The topic of sleep in young developing brains is complex and in further blogs, we will talk more about the current evidence in child and adolescent brains and sleep. We also know that mental health issues and neurodevelopmental conditions can also impact greatly on sleep and vice versa.
In this blog, there will be information provided on blue light and how it can impacts on sleep. It is important to remember that blue light is just one factor when we look at children's sleep pattern and there is a need for research and evidence looking at the relationship between evening blue light and sleep.
So, what is exactly is blue light? Blue light is a short wavelength light that helps to encourage alertness and performance. We receive blue light from a variety of sources including natural sunlight and screens. This light regulates our sleeping pattern through a type of photoreceptor in our eyes which preferentially responds to light in the blue spectrum. Importantly, light also regulates our sleep-wake cycle or circadian rhythm which is our body’s natural alarm clock.
Blue light has an impact on circadian rhythms.
Artificial blue light is emitted from televisions, laptops, tablets and mobile phones and can disrupt our melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain in anticipation of the evening. Artificial blue light before bedtime can actually trick brains into melatonin suppression.
This is one of the reasons why there can be problems as children may then not feel sleepy. Children are particularly susceptible because their eyes are more sensitive to the effects of this artificial light. Evening light exposure can suppress melatonin more so than in adults. Other factors other than blue light can also be the level of engagement with screentime especially when it leads to delayed bedtimes.
Some things you could try in your home
- Dim all lighting approximately two hours before bed
- Stop screentime at least two hours before bedtime
- Keep screens out of the room as much as you can
- Dim the brightness of screens if possible as it gets later