In the aftermath of the holiday season, it is very likely your children received a new gadget or two with which to become completely consumed. Local pediatrician, Dr. Gregory Lawton, a member of the Medical Staff at The Chester County Hospital, guest wrote this post to stress the importance of parents making sure children are getting a good night's sleep, in spite of the bings, bells and buzzes that can keep them up too late at night.
I am going to go out on a limb and state three "facts" about sleep and its relative importance for our children's health, learning and wellbeing.
- No one ever improved their grades by putting off sleep to play Xbox.
- No one ever performed better at their sport by staving off sleep to update their status or text their friends.
- No one on an airplane would feel comfortable if they knew that the pilot had only gotten three hours of sleep the night before because he had been watching the Godfather trilogy.
Up until the preschool period, parents control the sleep schedule for their children. Then, according to surveys, one-third of parents do something that complicates their child's sleep patterns. They put a television in their child's room. They permit the Xbox to encroach on their child's sleep environment. They acquiesce to a smartphone next to the bed "as an alarm clock."
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly 7 out of 10 kids/teenagers have a television in their room. The numbers are even higher if you consider other electronic gadgets. There are plenty of studies that cite a relationship between the presence of a television in the room and hours of television watched with sleep and academic troubles. So, I won't bore you with the details.
Rather, when I am speaking with parents, one-on-one in the examination room, I appeal to their common (and hopefully better) sense.
"Tell me, how does having a television in their room improve their school work?"
"Are they better at their sport because they can put off sleep in favor of playing a computer game or updating their Facebook account"?
The answers, of course, are no. But are the questions too simple? After all, eating ice cream in moderation doesn't help with math grades or speed on the soccer field either, but I don't rail against Moosetracks.
My questions are meant to prompt thoughts about priorities and goals. If we all know that sleep is so important, why are we so inclined to disregard that which we know for that which is convenient or easy?
It is certainly easier to avoid the battle for the remote or an argument about "why can't I watch this..." if the option exists for the child to simply view things in their own space (and not your space). "My family room and my TV show; their room and their TV show" might go the thought process.
For others, it is easy to use the television or a show on a tablet to "help" her fall asleep. It sure beats all those requests for another drink or other delaying tactics.
However, the reality is television images impair the normal process of sleep, especially the process of initiating or falling asleep. The rapidly changing images stimulate the brain and excite it, raising the threshold of "boredom" that needs to be overcome to fall asleep. Television programs are designed to entertain. If they are successful, then they will entertain our children right out of a good night sleep.
Video games, computers, tablets, cell phones, smart phones, and iPods are no different. Each item serves a purpose in our daily lives, but can also inhibit us from refueling at night so that we can be well-rested and more likely successful in our daily lives.
As parents, we need to be good models of healthy behavior to our children as well as provide guidance and parameters on what is and is not healthy for our children. My advice (and my kids will readily acknowledge that this is true in the draconian Lawton home) is to keep all electronics out of a child's bedroom. Sleep is paramount to success, either in the classroom or on the field.
Take a stand, be the parent, and just say no.
Dr. Gregory Lawton is a pediatrician at CHOPCare West Chester. He writes for Medscape at A Musing Pediatrician.