Screen time, sleep and behaviors

Posted November 29, 2016 | From Us, kids

By Lisa Yang, ND

We all know that sleep is an important aspect of our health. Without getting an adequate amount of sleep we can become easily agitated, irritable, tired, and it can lead to a cyclical pattern of poor sleep. This blog post will present recent research showing the relationship between screen time, behavior, sleep quality as well as talk about steps you can take to make screen time guidelines and tips for a good night’s rest.

The research:

A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics showed sleeping near a small screen, with a television in the room and more screen time were all associated with shorter sleep durations. Specifically, children who slept near a small screen reported on average 20 fewer minutes of sleep per day than those who never slept near a small screen. (1)

There have also been brain imaging studies that have shown less efficient information processing ability, reduced impulse inhibition, and poor task performance in individuals with excess screen time.  Other studies have found physiological change in the brain’s white matter and atrophy of grey matter in adolescents with internet/gaming addiction. One of the main areas affected by this form of addiction is the frontal lobe which governs executive function. (2)

New screen time guidelines:

With all of these new studies and findings, the American Academy of Pediatrics have also recently revised their screen time recommendations:

  • Children less than 18 months- avoid screen time all together
  • Children between 18-24 months – for parents who want to introduce media, should choose high quality programming and to watch with their children
  • Children ages 2 to 5 years old- limit screen time to 1 hour per day of high quality programs
  • Children ages 6 and older- place limits on media and the types of media

Steps to take:

To avoid the possible negative repercussions of screen time, it is important to set up guidelines to limit access. The AAP recommends the Family Media Use Plan tool, launched by healthychildren.org. (3) It is a easy tool to help families set up rules with screen time. Guidelines for screen free zones and times, device curfews, how to balance online and off-line time, charging devices outside of the bedroom, and also discussing privacy settings are all recommended. For the Family Media Plan to be successful, it is important for everyone honor it.

Another recommendation would be to make screen time something that can be earned through good behavior, following directions, finishing chores and homework. A maximum amount of minutes that can be earned should also be established. This model allows good behavior to be rewarded, which is great positive feedback for many children and adolescents.

When it comes to bedtime, starting a routine is important.

  • boy-and-screenPutting a curfew for media devices at least 1 hour before bed reduces any stimulating effects of shows and games. This allows the brain and your child to unwind and get ready for sleep.
  • Charging devices outside of the bedroom is also recommended to reduce light that is emitted from devices that may promote wakefulness. Keeping the bedroom pitch dark will promote melatonin release to help your child fall asleep
  • Use an alarm clock rather than a smartphone or tablet as wakeup device

Making changes or sticking with a Family Media Plan may be a difficult step for many families, but knowing that these steps can improve sleep quality and reduce any negative consequences of excess screen time makes it worthwhile.

Resources:

1. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2015/01/01/peds.2014-2306.full.pdf

2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-wealth/201402/gray-matters-too-much-screen-time-damages-the-brain

3. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/media/Pages/default.aspx

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Practicing mindfulness within the hectic day.

Posted February 28, 2016 | From Us, kids

Written by Li Yang, ND

Now that everyone is back from mid-winter break, most children and teens are getting back into the routine of balancing school, therapies, extracurricular activities and family time. Beyond juggling these activities, this is a great time for adolescents to recognize their stressors and start to develop coping strategies. It is important that parents and role models begin to show their teens how to practice mindfulness, recognize symptoms of stress, and manage any emotional outbursts.

Some physical signs of stress includes:

  • fast heart beat, racing heart
  • cold/clammy hands
  • butterflies or knot in stomach
  • tight muscles, especially the jaw, shoulders, back
  • trouble falling asleep (especially if the mind has difficulty shutting off)
  • emotional outbursts- crying, irritability, wanting to escape
  • headaches 
  • increase in stomachaches or feelings of panic

I find that scheduling down time after school and extracurricular activities is extremely helpful in recouping from the hectic day. Setting aside 30-40 minutes for your child to relax, listen to music or audiobooks helps them turn off their “constant on the go” mentality. This would also be a great time to practice mindfulness and relaxation exercises with your child.

Mindfulness
Relaxation tips and techniques:

It is important to help your child recognize when to use these relaxation techniques. Being able to check in with their bodies, scanning for any of the above listed physical signs of stress throughout the day helps them identify when to use the below strategies.

Abdominal breathing-

Take a slow deep breath and try and fill your abdominal like a ballon. Place both hands on your abdomen and you want to feel it expand outward while breathing in. Count from 1 to 5 as you breath in and as your breath out.

Mini scan-

Take a deep breath in. Scan your body for areas that feel tense starting from the head to toe. The goal is to breathe into these areas as you exhale. Take 2 slow deep breaths visualizing the tense area (top of the head, upper shoulders, etc) and imaging blowing away the tension like a pile of sand in your hand. Do this twice for every tense part of your body.

You are going to use your right thumb to close your right nostril and either your right ring or little finger to close your left nostril.

Sit straight in a comfortable position in a chair or couch. Take a few inhales and exhales, counting in and out for 2 seconds. Start by closing your left nostril with your ring or little finger. Inhale through your right nostril and exhale through your right nostril. Repeat 5x.

Then release your left nostril and close your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale and exhale gently, 5x. Don’t force your breath and if you need to take a break breathe through both nostrils, then do so. This exercise should feel refreshing and balancing.

Remember that practicing mindfulness throughout the day is not about perfection. It is about recognizing how our body reacts when we are stressed or anxious. Learning how to be mindful is a life skill and the more we practice the better we will get!

Great resources for parents and teens:

http://mindfulnessforteens.com/guided-meditations/
http://youth.anxietybc.com/mindfulness-exercises

Phone apps:

http://stopbreathethink.org/

Smiling mind- can choose programs for different age groups, a great one for children and adults alike. https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/smiling-mind/id560442518?mt=8&ign-mpt=uo%3D4

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