My son has never slept (he is now 14) and he was recently referred to a sleep centre. Over the years, we have tried everything to help getting him to sleep. He has been diagnosed with ADHD, ASD and is very sensory which all contribute to his sleep problems. He would often fall asleep in his morning classes, then to be wide awake at bedtime. The anxiety faced at bedtime by a child who has sleep problems, as they know that they will not sleep, causes sleep anxiety problems in itself.
Sleep problems can be more prevalent in children with needs. For example, a child with ADHD will find it hard to settle down and switch off at bedtime and therefore, may not be able to sleep. For children with special needs, sleep deprivation can have a massive effect. The world is a hard-enough place to deal with when you have needs, without being sleep deprived as well.
Some children may be prescribed the drug Melatonin by a health professional, to help with sleep problems. This is to help jump start the sleep cycle but, over time, it may hinder the production of your child’s melatonin and therefore prevent them from developing their own natural sleep pattern.
Sleep Training Concepts and Ideas
Just recently, we were recommended to try a programme where we wouldn’t let our son sleep until 1 am and then wake him up after 8 hours (using sunlight as well as encouragement). After a couple of nights, we should let him go to sleep at 12.45 then 12.30 and so on. The idea is to bring the sleep pattern back into a routine which would produce the required level of the body’s natural sleep hormone, melatonin. Unfortunately, this strategy was not a solution for us, as trying to keep him amused until the required time, without using a gadget or getting into bed, meant that he got bored and disruptive.
Of course, we’ve all been made aware of the impact these gadgets can have on sleep patterns if they are used right up to the time we go to bed but I never knew the impact blue light would have on my child’s sleep.
Most of us are exposed to blue light for several hours daily due to the light that is emitted from tablets, phones, computer screens, TV’s and indeed natural light from the sun. Over-exposure to this type of light in the evening has been proven to keep us awake making it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. One of the reasons for this is that the blue light from electronic devices mimics daylight. In fact, this is very likely the cause of your child being awake at night!
This is why sleep experts are constantly telling us to turn off our electronic devices, and that we should be doing this hours before going to bed since it can take from an hour to one and half hours before your body is ready to doze off. But it makes you wonder what else we could be doing?
Personally, as a family, we always enforced time limits for our son when using his gadgets. We take his phone, iPad etc. out of his room, at night time, to ensure they were not being used close to bedtime. HOWEVER, we have now managed to sort out our son’s sleep problems by using the very thing which has, we believed, caused a lot of the sleep problem in the first place, by allowing him to use his iPad!
At first, we were very sceptical about this new approach. But honestly, we had already noticed that, when he snuck his iPad into his room at night, he was a lot calmer and not as disruptive. The downside was still that he didn’t get to sleep early or indeed sleep well. Being calmer was a big step in the right direction, however. the Sleep Centre, using this information, recommended that we install a blue light app on his iPad and let him have his iPad at night to watch YouTube (no games or Instagram). It was crucial that he used the blue light filter while watching YouTube during these late hours!
I never thought that iPads and kids would mix well at bedtime, but it turns out…
It went against everything we believed and understood about a child’s sleep habits but it works, reducing the exposure to the blue light, keeps our son calm at night. On a different note, he also likes the idea of being thought mature enough to have his iPad and being trusted to use it in a sensible manner. He knows that misusing the iPad will result in it being removed. This may seem hard but I think he needs to have boundaries as do all children. We do still remove the iPad at night once he is asleep but as he gets older this may change. It seems that the disruptive sleep circle caused by the blue light is slowly being put back into its correct rhythm.
Who Wants To Know The Mystery Behind Blue Light Issues?
The blue light from the gadgets affects our circadian rhythm which is your body’s internal alarm clock. When it gets dark, the hormone melatonin is produced in the brain which tells the body when to sleep. Daylight produces cortisol, which gives you a wake-up call in the morning. When your body encounters a lot of blue light at night, it turns off your internal clock and sleep does not come easily. The result is that during the following day without sleep, children may become sleepy, irritable, and moody translating to less efficiency at school and difficulty completing work – and these are just the short-term effects.
Short-wave blue light, more than any other colour of light, is a melatonin suppressor and is therefore a major cause of sleep disruption. It has been found that blue light and the suppression of our melatonin can cause long-term effects such as illness, compromised immune system, visual problems (only in severe cases) as well as the main issue of sleep disruption.
Solutions for Sleep Problems in Children
Naturally, this suggestion of using a blue light filter may not work for everyone and needs careful monitoring. I wanted to share our experience since we have been pleasantly surprised by the major change in our son and his sleep habits. Please note that the later versions of iPads have this blue filter option installed on their system, however, always research any apps before you install them to your electronic devices.
Please seek advice for any urgent medical concerns related to your child’s health. This blog post is shared as a personal story, and is not to be used as a medical recommendation.
By Jenny Dunton