The World of Technology Disrupts Sleep

Patient Expert

Children in New Zealand are suffering from sleep deprivation caused by the technological world we live in. I'm sure that children in all technically developed countries are having the same problem.

What's causing these problems? Children can spend hours surfing, playing games or visiting chat rooms on the computer. Games, either on the computer or those with their own consoles, are another sleep hazard. Most children these days have cell phones and can spend hours exchanging text messages with friends.

Not only do these technical wonders keep children awake while they are using them, they also stimulate the mind. Interactive computer sites and games are even worse at stimulating a child's mind.

Specialists in Great Britain report that over 3000 children have been referred to them suffering from sleepwalking and insomnia. "Coming home from school and playing on computers isn't good from a sleep point of view," says Professor Phillipa Gander, director of Massey University's Sleep/Wake Research Center.

Television is yet another problem. A recent study found that playing computer games and watching nighttime TV robs our children of sleep. This leads to all sorts of problems - poor performance at school, daytime sleepiness, irritability and even health problems.

Why is this? Well, the violence of some of the computer games and late night shows is enough to give a staunch adult nightmares. Both TV and games stimulate the mind and an active mind does not help a child sleep. But Dr. John Herman, a sleep expert at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, reports that the flashing lights on the games and TV shows may be resetting the circadian rhythm, changing the body's internal clocks so kids want to stay awake and get up later each day.

What can you do about this problem? Limit TV and computer games to half to an hour before bedtime. Encourage children to use this time to unwind and relax. It's an excellent time for a warm bath, a nonviolent story and some quality time with family.

Another study of children in the United States shows that one of every four children less than 3 years old may be watching at least three hours of television each weekday. In addition, the Children's Hospital Medical Center of Cincinnati study shows that 40 percent of two-year-olds watch at least three hours of TV a day.

A study from Tohoku University in Japan suggests that computer games stunt brain development and could cause children to be more disposed to violence. TV has become a "baby sitter" in many homes. It may seem like a harmless pastime, but it may be time to rethink how your children spend their time. Too much TV watching and computer game activities may be destroying, not just your children's sleep but their minds as well.

Dr. Alex Bartle, Director of several Sleep Well Clinics in New Zealand suggests that parents need to encourage kids to get out during the day. Parents should also, Bartle says, to remove TVs and computers from children's bedrooms.