Most people are using at least one form of electronic media on a regular basis, whether it is smartphones, laptops, video games or television. There have been concerns raised that this is having a negative effect on sleep patterns in people of all ages, but particularly in children and young people. Good quality sleep is essential for brain function and, without it concentration and memory can be negatively affected.
The use of electronics
In recent years the use of electronics such as smartphones and laptops has increased dramatically and it is now more common for people to be sending emails or surfing the Internet late at night. Games consoles have become one of the most common gadgets for children and teenagers so many of them fill their waking hours playing the latest video games.
Over the last few years, a number of clinical studies have been carried out into the effects of electronic use and sleep patterns. Most of these studies have looked into the impact of the use of electronics on sleep patterns in the young. The general result is that those who use these items regularly will enjoy fewer hours of sleep and will often be delayed in getting to sleep. A review of a number of different studies found that using electronic equipment for between 50 and 60 minutes before sleep is fine but there are negative effects associated with their use for more than two hours at a time.
When the brain is being used a lot, for example during use of electronic equipment, the activity within the brain speeds up, but this is counter-productive for good sleep. In addition, a person’s body can also tense up when using electronic media so that the body is receiving more of the stress hormone cortisol than it should, which makes it even more difficult to get to sleep. Scientists have also proved that the ‘glow’ that is produced by laptop screens, TV screens and smartphones can prevent the body from producing melatonin, a hormone that can help to bring about sleep.
There are a number of different sleep disorders that could affect somebody who spends a lot of time on electronic media. A sleep disorder is diagnosed usually when a person’s sleep patterns are affected regularly. It could be that energy levels are affected, emotional problems appear and general health and well-being is not what it should be. Signs to look out for include irritability, sleepiness, and tiredness while driving, problems with concentration, slow reactions and the need for regular caffeine intake just to keep going.
The most common sleep disorder is insomnia. This is a lack of sleep and it is often caused by another health issue such as depression or stress, although some lifestyle choices can play a part. Others may suffer from disorders such as sleep apnea, where the breathing is disrupted during sleep. Most people may not be aware that they have this condition but they will be left feeling tired all the time as a result.
Another common sleep disorder is RLS – restless legs syndrome. Despite its name, this can also affect the arms. It is an urge to move the legs when they are uncomfortable, aching or tingling in some way. Another disorder is narcolepsy, which is excessive tiredness during the day and can lead to the sufferer to fall asleep unexpectedly.
Getting help for sleep disorders
As sleep deprivation and problems can have a negative impact on health, it is a good idea to make the family doctor the first port of call for assistance. It is important to go armed with as much information as possible – such as information on lifestyle and details of when the problems first started.
However, there are also a number of things that a person can do at home to help to improve their chances of a good night’s sleep. The first is to avoid using electronic gadgets before bedtime. This is a good habit to get into with children. Allow the brain to settle into a restful pattern at the end of the day and avoid stimulating it with emails or games. In order for the brain to get into a proper pattern, choose a switch off time each day and encourage the whole family to follow the same pattern.
Changing sleeping habits may sound like a difficult task but with a little effort it will only take a few weeks for every member of the family to be enjoying the benefits of good quality sleep again.