The Elusive Land of Nod
Updated: Aug 1
I don’t know about you, but there are certain weeks when I just can’t sleep thinking of the troubling research on children and screens. And sleep is so important. As adults, we know we need more sleep and can choose healthy sleep hygiene. But, for kids, especially teens, circadian rhythms are disturbed by the vast online world available to them.
In a way, we can understand it. Night represents an opportunity for independence. No one
is breathing down their necks and telling them what to do. They can “hang out” with the people they like and explore new possibilities, a developmental task of the teen years. While they might feel exhausted, research tells us that the mere use of a digital screen is stimulating to their nervous systems.
The human sleep-wake cycle mostly takes its cues from sunlight. When it’s bright outside, we become more alert. When it becomes dark, the body produces melatonin which induces sleepiness. Smartphones, tablets, computers, television screens, and some e-readers give off short-wavelength blue light that is very similar to sunlight. Not only does this light make us more alert, it also deceives the body into thinking it’s still daytime. But, regardless of blue light and appropriate filters, engagement with a screen is activating the brain and body, rather than sedating them. In response, the body produces less melatonin, interfering with its natural sleep-wake cycle. The longer our teens spend on their screens – including homework completed online late at night – the greater the consequences for their sleep.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, regular, sufficient sleep improves
attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and
physical health. We are all pretty familiar by now with the rules about limiting screens
before bed – no devices in the bedroom, charge everyone’s devices overnight in a basket
in your room, shut them off one hour before bed, and so on. But, do we understand how
the children feel when we take away an opportunity?
1. Start by acknowledging the importance of connecting with friends
2. Explain that you’re not denying it, but limiting it to earlier in the evening.
3. Until school districts institute later start times, earlier bedtimes remain.
4. “Family rules” are more supportive than you think. They are often the excuse kids need
to tell their friends they have to get off their device, giving them relief from constant
The Waldorf philosophy honors sleep as part of the rhythm of learning. Sleep is viewed as
a vehicle to process our day, to resolve problems, restore equilibrium, and support
creativity. One of the most peaceful feelings as parents and caregivers is tucking your
children in at night, often proceeded by a bedtime story. When they are big, the tucking
ritual usually gets dropped. However, the feeling of a child sleeping soundly remains a
moment of parental accomplishment and peace. It means a child has completed a day in
the bumpy journey of the teen years and is resting up to do it all over again tomorrow.
While teens may not want a lullaby, parent monitoring and rule-setting has proved to make
a difference. Parents can also model turning off their devices at night. Are we up to the