Should children be banned from technology and devices before school?

That was the advice given in a recent BBC News article from clinical psychologist Linda Blair.  This is predominantly down to what is known as the ‘blue-light’ effect, which is the frequency of light given off by devices and has been shown to reduce the amount melatonin, which is the hormone produced by the body which is important for sleep.

It may be the way the article is written, but I think the advice is overly-simplistic; banning devices before school will do very little.  The most recent research from Harvard university has given us some fantastic information in regards to the effects of blue light, and this is particularly important before bed time.

To quote from a Guardian article:

Researchers from Harvard Medical School’s sleep medicine department put 12 healthy young adults through a two-week experiment, in which the participants would either read a light-emitting ebook for four hours before bedtime or a printed book. Study participants reading a light-emitting ebook took on average almost 10 minutes longer to fall asleep and said they were less sleepy an hour before bedtime than they were reading a paper book.

They also had suppressed evening levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin – readers of print showed no suppression – and significantly less REM (rapid eye movement) sleep than print book participants. The next morning, they took “hours longer to fully ‘wake up’ and attain the same level of alertness.”

What’s the advice?

The most important consideration is ‘balance’.

What I mean by that is technology is a significant part of life for many, including children and young people (and of course adults).  Children will be using technology at school, they may well get set homework and might have to use a computer as part of that homework.  And importantly, they will want to relax, play a game, or go online to chat to their friends.  So it is the balance of all that which is key.  The most important aspect of all is the use of devices before bedtime.  As was clearly shown in the Harvard research, the reduction in melatonin levels can have a negative impact on sleep, meaning that we will wake up still tired, unable to concentrate, perhaps grumpy.  For children, particularly the younger ones, I would advise no devices for about 2 hours before bedtime.  This isn’t evidential based advice, more research needs to be done in this area, but I think 2 hours is a good starting point.

Important!

It’s important to remember that we are only recently starting to see some of this really good evidence-based research, so initially some of the advice may come across as ‘scaremongering’.  But because we don’t yet know any better, my advice is always that of caution until we do know better.