Information Technology Update – May 26, 2016

May 25, 2016

The Importance of Teenage Sleep and the effect of Devices

One of the most important issues we as parents deal with is the health of our children, and making sure they get enough sleep is always an important aim of all parents. Sleep is seen by many experts as one of the most important health considerations in our child’s life. Indeed, as Dr Chris Seton of the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research describes it, he sees sleep as one of three pillars of health – good sleep, good nutrition and exercise. Dr Seton believes that if you are looking after these three aspects of your health you are way ahead in the health stakes.

Recently on SBS there was an excellent edition of the program -‘Insight’ that discussed the topic of -‘Sleep.’ For part of the program, they focussed on teenagers and their sleep and discussed some good sleep practices as well as the effect devices can have on sleep. The respected online not-for-profit health web site ( has much information on sleep patterns and healthy sleep and recommends teens and preteens (12 to 18 years) need 8.5 to 10 hours sleep a night. Fiona Kerr of the University of Adelaide described sleep as a series of cycles, about five, with the last cycle called Rapid Eye Movement (REM). She described REM as occurring normally after about 7 hours. Fiona Kerr stated the importance of REM, particularly for young people, as is it where you get your very creative thoughts and where your brain loosens off and genes actually change. She stated that if you are not getting this REM cycle which starts after 7 hours it can be quite detrimental and affects creativity and long term memory. She went on to say that if you don’t sleep enough you don’t embed what you learnt, you actually lose those things you learned. This is particularly important for our children as learning is such a key part of their lives.

Fiona Kerr also talked about devices and the affect they can have on our sleep. She describes that whenever you look at your screen or hear a ding you get a spike of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres. This is how for some people use of electronic devices can in fact lead to addiction. Fiona Kerr made it quite clear that any type of devices should not be in our children’s bedroom leading up to or during sleeping hours as it can have a detrimental impact on their sleep. Some experts even say don’t let children charge devices in their bedroom as the temptation to view the device can be too great which in turn can have a detrimental impact on our children’s sleep

The problem with devices and sleep centres around a term the experts use to describe the screen of a mobile device which they call -‘blue screen’. A blue screen changes how the melatonin works -melatonin is linked with how our body gets ready for sleep. If you have a blue screen in front of your face (interestingly the TV is not regarded as a blue screen) such as an iPad or a smart phone and it is close to your face it changes how melatonin acts on your brain and it changes the way you are sensitive to light in the -‘circadian rhythm’. The circadian rhythm is the 24-hour internal clock which regulates our sleep cycle. Melatonin is one of the key things that sets or resets your circadian rhythm and it is very sensitive to light. Instead of viewing the iPhone and getting a spike in dopamine, Fiona Kerr recommends we pick up a book instead. Another practice Kerr recommends for a healthy sleep includes exercise – running or walking. She believes doing something aerobic everyday can help the brain with sleep.

Dr Chris Seton in advising of healthy sleep habits also recommends we get rid of electronic devices and have a set routine. This may include having a hot shower, maybe a warm glass of milk and that these types of practices become sleep onset cues to the brain. Seton also warns against having devices in the bedroom leading up to or during sleep as the blue light affect is similar -to having someone by your bedside shouting at you to stay awake.- – He believes that when the device is held close to your face the blue light affect is even higher. Seton also warns that using devices can make the bed become a place of conditioned arousal – the games, social media, videos etc. that children watch can cause dopamine and adrenalin secretion and that the adrenalin keeps you awake. If you do this too much in or on the bed the child’s brain starts to think the bed is a place for wakefulness, not for sleep.

Dr Seton also talks about the fact that studies show that 70% of teenagers are sleep deprived. He makes the interesting point that teenage sleep deprivation is now listed by the US Health Department as a public health issue, alongside heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Seton believes teenagers from 12 – 19 need around 9 hours sleep. The key thing in teenagers is they are learning and REM sleep consolidates learning but only starts after 7 hours of sleep.

You can see this informative program on SBS On Demand ‘Insight – Sleep’ at

As parents we have long known the importance of healthy sleep in our children’s lives and it is interesting to note that experts recommend children 12 to 18 years old need around 8.5 to 10 hours sleep a night. It is always helpful to hear from experts such as Fiona Kerr and Dr Chris Seton and to see how we can embed some their advice into our own family practices. What is clear is that while our children need to use devices for their homework and enjoy using them for entertainment, it is important they are turned off and put away from the bedroom well before bed time and placed somewhere in the house where children cannot access them during their sleep time. Fiona Kerr’s advice of reading a good book at bed time is perhaps something we can help our children to do which in turn can help form part of a healthy sleep routine for our children.

Mr Mark Holland

Director of ICT