What Screen Time Can Really Do To A Child’s Brain

As part of Chiropractix commitment to helping you lead an extraordinary life we offer lots of lifestyle advice and tips in addition to your chiropractic adjustments. A big part of leading a balanced life in today’s busy world is making sure you get enough shut-eye to rest and recharge your body. Dr Shivani’s recent blog touched on the importance of sleep with a focus on making sure you have the right pillow support for you. Today’s blog will delve further into what the negative effects on our health may be if we’re not sleeping properly and how limiting your screen time is vital to making a positive change.

Sleep benefits:

The number one reason why we talk about improving your sleep quality and quantity is that our bodies go into repair mode when we sleep. Cells produce more protein that is then used in repairing any damage. In addition to this, adequate sleep also helps your body to regulate your serotonin levels enabling you to feel more happy and productive. Seven to nine hours of sleep every night has been shown to significantly reduce risk of heart disease and stroke as well as reducing stress hormone levels and chronic inflammation

Sleep problems:

According to certain reports, about three quarters of people experience some difficulties getting to sleep more than twice a week and many people sleep less than six hours a night.  Inadequate sleep has been linked to an increased risk of work-related injuries and road accidents. Concentration, learning and memory are all negatively impacted by poor sleep, which in turn affects mood and productivity. Chronic sleep deprivation has also been linked to weight gain as your body alters the way it processes and stores carbohydrates.

How screen time affects your health and sleep:

Psychology and neuroanatomical studies have shown the actual structure of the brain changes with too much screen time and no-one is more vulnerable to this than adolescents and young adults. The reason being that much of the damage occurs in the frontal lobe, which undergoes massive changes from puberty to mid-twenties. The appropriate development of the frontal lobe determines success in every area of life from relationship skills to academic or career success as well as impulse and craving control and an overall sense of well-being.

Other studies have focused on even younger populations and a New Zealand report issued earlier this year showed young Kiwis to be in the ‘extreme’ category of screen use thus leading to a negative relationship with students’ life satisfaction and engagement at school.

No matter what age you are the research is clear on how screen time hampers your sleep in three main ways:

·      Timing – less time is available for sleep as electronic media can lead to a delay in your bedtime. You may stay up past your necessary bedtime to watch the end of your favourite TV episode, reply to your emails, or scroll through your Facebook feed.

·      Content – if engaging in exciting or provocative information (either through TV shows or video games or from reading a negative email) then emotional or hormonal responses (like increased adrenaline or cortisol) can be triggered. This then reduces the ability to fall and or stay asleep.

·      Light emissions – the blue light emitted from electronic devices disrupts the body’s naturally occurring circadian rhythm that is governed by your pineal gland. The pineal gland located deep in the brain responds to the light around you making you either more alert or coordinating the release of melatonin, an important hormone needed for regulating the sleep cycle.

What to do about it:

According to the National Sleep Foundation and the Ministry of Health, the following sleep durations are recommended over a 24-hour period:

Pre-schoolers between three and four years old = 10 – 13 hours

School-aged children between five and thirteen years old = 9 – 11 hours

Teenagers between fourteen and seventeen years old = 8 – 10 hours

Young people between eighteen and twenty-five years old = 7 – 9 hours

Dr Sarah Loughran, a sleep researcher from the University of Wollongong in Australia suggests the following tips for the whole family:

·      Set a ‘bed time’ for your media devices – one to two hours before you intend to go to sleep. Adults should lead by example so that the kids can also get into good habits.

·      Tweak your bedtime routine – replace screen time with calming activities to help you wind down properly. I love taking a bath with a few drops of lavender oil added or reading a book (a real book, not an e-reader!).

·      No media devices in the bedroom – a tough rule but helpful in removing any temptations to check your emails or social networks just before sleep.

·      During the day replace screen time with exercise – outdoor exercise in real light is helpful for regulating your circadian rhythm and can mean the little ones (and adults too) are more tired and ready for bed when evening comes.

·      Limit food and drinks during screen time, especially at night – mindless over-eating and drinking (especially caffeine) may be encouraged when watching or using electronic devices thus over-stimulating the body and leading to hormonal imbalances.

How chiropractic can help:

Chiropractic adjustments lead to a more balanced structure and optimum communication between your brain and your body. This often results in reduction or resolution of your pain but also limits your stress response as your body begins to function more efficiently. A more comfortable body and a good sleep posture results in less tension enabling you to relax more and fall asleep easier.