Friday, July 22, 2011

Wired and Tired: Electronics and Sleep Disturbance in Children

Wired and Tired: 
Electronics and Sleep Disturbance in Children
Published on March 12, 2011 by Victoria L. Dunckley, M.D. in Mental Wealth

Victoria L. Dunckley, M.D. is a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist specializing in treating children with complex diagnoses and/or treatment-resistant conditions.

Does your child have trouble sleeping, concentrating, or getting up in the morning? Do they sleep plenty of hours but seem exhausted? Sleep difficulties in children are on the rise--and I expect this trend will get worse before it gets better. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, estimates for the number of children with abnormal sleep range from one in ten in the general population, to 50-75% in children with mental health or developmental/neurological disorders.

In my practice, parents frequently report their child does not fall asleep easily, is restless at night, or is extremely irritable and disorganized in the morning. Adolescents frequently complain that they can't sleep, and then feel exhausted the next day--only to have the pattern repeat the following night. As one teen aptly put it, she felt "wired and tired."

A growing body of evidence shows that video games and other electronics induce the fight-or-flight syndrome, putting the body in a state of stress. Studies show sustained increases in blood pressure and pulse, even hours after playing a video game. It doesn't have to be a violent game, or even an action game-or even a game at all! Over time, Internet surfing and texting will similarly put the brain and body in a state of stress, just from the high level of visual and cognitive stimulation. 

These changes inevitably cause sleep issues. Even if your child sleeps for eight to ten hours, it doesn't mean their sleep is restorative. If they're "revved up" enough during the day, primitive areas of the brain kick in, and send signals to be on-the-alert. From an evolutionary point of view, being vigilant serves to protect us from potential predators. But there's a cost: deep sleep is sacrificed (because deeper sleep makes one more vulnerable), causing the restorative stages of sleep, stages three and four, to be cut short. 

Aside from the fight-or-flight state, there are (at least) two other ways video games and electronic devices alter sleep. Both of these reactions reduce melatonin, the chemical signal that tells your brain it's time to sleep:
1.             The first is due to the unnatural brightness of the screen. Normally, melatonin is released by darkness, and inhibited by light. When the eyes experience intense brightness, they channel that bright light directly to the brain, shutting down the sleep switch. Sleep/wake cycles, or circadian rhythms, are also disrupted. Studies show that dysregulated circadian rhythms cause mood, concentration, and hormonal dysfunction
2.             The second has to do with electromagnetic radiation (EMR), a by-product of anything electronic. Monitors, anything wireless, and internet use compound the level of EMR, making handheld video games particularly toxic. Like bright light, EMR disrupts melatonin release. (It also exacerbates the fight-or-flight state, which you now know is a killer for adequate rest.)
The Kempton West Study in Germany (2007) showed that residents exposed to a wireless cell phone transmitter (which emits high amounts of EMR) installed nearby developed dramatic changes in their melatonin and serotonin (another brain chemical, related to feeling calm and having a sense of well-being) regulation, within five months of the wireless transmitter arriving. Interestingly, nighttime melatonin was reduced in the majority of the subjects, while daytime melatonin increased. Essentially, the melatonin release "flattened out" and shifted to being released in the morning. This effectively reduced deep sleep and at the same time caused a feeling of exhaustion upon awakening in the study participants--the "wired and tired" effect. 

It's important to remember that children's brains are more sensitive to environmental influences than adults, because a young brain is actively growing and changing, among other reasons. It's not as "hard-wired" as an adult brain. With some children, it's obvious when they're not getting adequate shut-eye. With others it's harder to tell. Here are some signs your child might not be getting restorative sleep:
                Complaints of not being able to sleep (even if it appears otherwise)
                Dark circles under the eyes
                Poor memory, poor focus
                Difficulty with learning retention
                Hard to wake up in the morning
                Disorganized in the morning
                Irritability and meltdowns
The good news is that correcting sleep often improves or even reverses mental health symptoms. If you suspect your child may not be sleeping well, or exhibits any of the above, go old-school and simply "unplug" them. Give your child's brain a rest for a few weeks. Children will naturally engage in more physical, creative play in the absence of electronic entertainment, and won't be as "wired".
This sets the stage for healthy sleep, and you may not only banish the wired-and-tired may see a happier and more focused child you barely recognize!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Does It Really Affect Us?

In an article from PluggedIn.Org, movie studios' increasing reluctance to depict smoking in movies aimed at young audiences has corresponded with a significant drop in smoking among teens, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Specifically, the CDC reports that tobacco use occurred 595 times in 2010 in films with a G, PG or PG-13 rating-a 71.6% drop compared to similarly rated films in 2005. Even more dramatically, depictions of smoking plunged 95.8% in movies from the three studios (Disney, Time Warner, Comcast) with explicit policies against depicting that behavior. 

At the same time, from 2000 to 2009, tobacco use among middle schoolers fell from 15.1% to 8.2%. Among high school students, the percentage fell from 34.5% to 23.9%. CDC researcher Ursula Bauer said of the correlation is obvious, "The more you see [smoking onscreen], the more likely you are to be open to smoking and start smoking." 

Does anyone see a similar relationship with other behaviors shown on the movie screen as well?  Or is it limited to smoking.  How about sex, alcohol, drugs, violence, porn, etc?  Research has shown similar results as the smoking research yet no one is asking the TV and movie studios to cut back on scenes that feature sex, alcohol, drugs, violence, etc.  Why not? Isn't it politically correct?   

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I Don't Want My Kids To Be Happy

The following is a letter Missy wrote to her children.  

Missy writes the blog: "It's Almost Nap Time!" at

Dear Shepherd, Sissy, Maggie and Ikey,

Recently we were told by people whom we love and respect why they oppose our plans to adopt. One of the reasons given was that we would not be able to pay for your college education.

It's true.

You all have college funds - college funds which recently took a terrible hit - but "they" say that by the time you're 18, college will cost anywhere between $200,000 to half a million dollars each. You might as well know now, we won't be covering that. I'm telling you now, babies.
 The people said that the day would come when you would look at us with resentment because you had to apply for school loans while many of your friends got a free ride from their parents.

Maybe you will. Maybe you'll resent us. I really hope not. But maybe I should tell y'all now why your dad and I have decided to do what we are doing.

I know you're going to think I am going off topic (I do that a lot) but several years I saw a story on a TV show about how the latest trend was for parents to give their daughters boob jobs for high school graduation (I don't know what they gave their sons.) When interviewing one of the moms, she said, "I just want my daughter to be happy." And as I tossed a throw pillow at the television, this really huge thought occurred to me: I don't want my children to be happy.

My goal as your mom is not your happiness, sugars. In fact, I spend at least half my day making you unhappy. If I had a nickle for every tear that falls in this home on a daily basis, we wouldn't need to worry about college tuition at all.

Happiness is fleeting, sweet babies. That means it doesn't last. It's a quick feeling that comes from a funny movie or a heart shaped lollipop or a really good birthday present. It's great. I love to be happy. But happiness is a reaction that is based on our surroundings. And our surroundings are so very rarely under our control. Even when - especially when - we think they are. So no, I absolutely don't want you to spend your life chasing something that has so little to do with your own abilities. You'll just be constantly frustrated.

There are two things I desire for you, precious loves. There are two things that I spend most of my time as a mother trying cultivate in you. Happiness ain't one of them. (This means, sorry, no boob jobs for you.)

The first is, I want you to be content. Being content is so much different from being happy. Being content is not based on your surroundings. Being content comes from within. Contentment is a spirit of gratitude. It's the choice you make to either be thankful for the things you do have, or to whine about the things you don't have.

Being content and grateful leads to consistent joy.

As you know, because I've told you lots of times, Paul talked about being content. Paul said that he had "learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." And Paul was in some rotten situations, kiddos, really rotten.

How could Paul be content whether he was in prison or if his life was literally a shipwreck? Because Paul was constantly seeking to be in the will of God instead of his own, was constantly sacrificing his own comfort for the sake of the gospel, and was constantly being confirmed, strengthened, and blessed by God because of his obedience. He was given a supernatural power - that means something kind of like magic, God magic - to do things that most other humans could not do. And guess what? The bible tells us (in Ephesians 1) that God will give you the exact same power! If you want it!

Which leads me to my second desire for y'all.

I don't want you to be happy. I want you to be holy. That means, I want you to seek that God-power to make you content. I want you to want the Kingdom of God more than your own kingdom. And that's hard, babies, that is so hard. And that usually means passing up a lot of what the world considers happiness. But it means that you will achieve blessings directly from God that most of the world never dreams of because they are too occupied with the achieving the perfect birthday present!

This means you may be poor, 'in want' as Paul said, and that's okay. It will never, ever be okay with the world for you to be poor. So you'll be up against the world. But not your dad and me, loves, because it was never our goal for you to be wealthy - at least not in the way that the world considers wealthy.

Darlings, we love you so much. You will never even grasp how much we love you until you have children of your own, and then you'll get it, and then you'll apologize for the ways you treated us ;) But our goal is not to please you. Our goal is to please our Heavenly Father. And nowhere in the bible does the Lord command that we save our money to send our kids to college.

But the Lord does command us to care for the orphan around fifty times. He does tell us to care for the poor around 300 times. He does tell us that when we care for the neediest, we are caring for Jesus Himself. And in chapter six of the book of Matthew, He tells us to seek His kingdom first, and let Him worry about the rest, like college tuition. Because it's all His anyway.

They said that one day y'all would resent us for using 'your' college money to go and get your sister out of an orphanage in Ethiopia and bring her home to you.

But I know my babies. Even at your tender ages, I know your hearts, and I have already seen you weep for the least of these. I know the prayers I offer up to God that He and not the world would shape the desires of your hearts. I am trusting Him to answer those prayers.

So, sugarbears - I just don't believe those people.



Used by permission from Missy @ It’s Almost Naptime. 
You may find this and Missy’s other insightful blogs at this link: