Many students struggle to fall asleep at night, even though they are terribly tired during the day. Why is this becoming a common occurrence? Daily, the average student spends nine hours using technology for enjoyment and school, and many of these hours are after the sun sets. Although sunlight dims to relative darkness, children's exposure to light remains when they are planted in front of televisions, phones, computers, and other handheld, computing devices.
What we are now learning is that this extended exposure to light is having detrimental effects on the natural circadian rhythms that have been established across time.
What are Circadian Rhythms?
Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle of light and dark in an organism's natural environment. The study of circadian rhythms is called chronobiology.
Are Circadian Rhythms Important?
Circadian rhythms are key in determining the sleep patterns of humans. Our body's have a controlling clock or suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) located in the hypothalamus that controls the production of hormones in the brain such as melatonin. The SCN is located above the optic nerve and relays information to the brain about when it is light and when it is dark. At night, it is the production of melatonin that causes you to get sleepy. As a result, when light exposure continues into the night, the brain does not secrete the chemical messengers into the blood that induce slumber.
How Does Technology Affect Circadian Rhythms and the Sleep Patterns of Students?
We now know that it's exposure to blue light at night that often keeps students up late. In fact, for the average person, reading on a tablet or computer before turning in can result in a later bedtime by about an hour. What's more, excessive use of technology such as texting has now been linked to sleep problems due to the continued exposure to light and sounds late into the night.
What Can Be Done to Protect Students from Light Emitted by Technology?
- Discontinue the use of technology at least 1 to 2 hours before bedtime.
- Help children feel comfortable sleeping in darkness and limit the use and brightness of nightlights. If nightlights are required, make sure to turn them off or dim them once children are asleep.
- Purchase blackout shades. These shades limit outside light penetrating into rooms, so kids can sleep deeply until they need to awake.
- Upload the free software Flux onto your computing devices. Flux adjusts the computer's display to the time of day and limits certain wavelengths at night.
- Dim computers and televisions in the night hours.
I hope you found this blog post helpful. Let me know if you have any additional strategies!
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.
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