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Smartphones are ruining your child’s sleep schedule, here’s how to fix it


Your child’s smartphone is ruining their sleep.

Smart devices and screen time lead to insomnia, poor sleep quality, and depressive symptoms among adolescents, according to a new study published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Kids who spend more time on screens report more difficulty falling asleep, a harder time staying asleep, and more depressive symptoms, the study of 3,134 adolescents found. Researchers observed reactions to four screen-based activities: social messaging, web surfing, TV/movies, and gaming, and found gaming had the greatest effect on depressive symptoms. This was no surprise to researchers in the technology field, said Josh Golin, executive director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

“This study is a really important one and adds to a growing body of evidence that teens just aren’t sleeping enough,” he said. “And screens are the major reason why.”

The research comes as Apple has unveiled new features to help iPhone users limit their device use and Google recently rolled out tools to help Android users cut down.

But how can you actually get teens to stop staring at screens? Getting adolescents to change their habits can be difficult, said Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, and author of “The Self-Aware Parent.”

“Teenagers hate being told what to do,” Walfish said. “Parents have to take action.” Here are some suggestions from experts on how to ensure your kids’ use of electronic devices isn’t hurting their sleep cycles.

Start young

Make sure your child gets to bed at the same time each night, experts say, starting at an early age. Childhood bedtime routines starting at as early as 5 years old have an effect on sleep later in adolescence, a separate study from American Academy of Sleep Medicine researchers found. It showed adherence to bedtimes from the ages of 5 to 9 are most important in improving sleep duration into adolescence and adulthood. Teens who did not have sleep routines as children reported nearly 30 minutes less of sleep each night on average.

Educate your kids

Children should know the effects of phone use and how good digital hygiene can improve their lives, experts say. Then they can make their own decisions regarding phone use, said Christine Elgersma, senior editor of parent education at Common Sense Media, a digital parenting resource.

It’s important to check in with kids as they use different devices, games, and apps, asking them, “How does it make you feel when you stop using the game?” Elgersma said. Being mindful about the effects of different technology is the first step to changing habits, she said.

The same goes for sleep. Teens need at least nine hours of sleep but often get less than seven hours, she added.

“Teens can definitely benefit from teaching them how important sleep is and how it can impact how they feel,” she said. “They should know sleep is such a huge factor in your physical health and mental well-being.”

Use curfews and rules

Education is just the start, said Walfish, the child psychotherapist. Because many teens hate being told what to do, it’s best for parents to set hard limits for them. She suggests setting a digital curfew and taking the teen’s phone at that same hour each night. If the teen complies, they can have the phone back in the morning. If they protest a lot, the amount of time before they get it back increases.

“There has to be action taken on the part of the parent that is reasonable,” she said. “In other words, don’t take it away at 6 p.m. but don’t wait until midnight either.”

Use technology to your advantage

More tech companies are unveiling tools to combat tech addiction as problems like these continue. On Monday, Apple

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  announced new controls for devices that will allow users to see how much time they spend on their screens and different apps and set limits. It will also enable parents to use the system to monitor kids’ phone use. Google

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 introduced similar features for Android devices recently. Other apps like Self Control for Mac let users block certain programs on their computers.

Participate in family experiments

Teens aren’t the only ones who need tech interventions: in many cases, parents are just as bad, said Elgersma. Attempts to cut down screen time are more effective when multiple family members participate, she said. Common Sense promotes a Device-Free Dinner to keep devices from interrupting meal time and other initiatives.

“Adults are just as guilty as teens, and it affects us in a similar way,” she said. “Try it as a family experiment and see if making that adjustment is helpful.”

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June 6, 2018

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