Educational tablets and other smart devices can help parents tremendously. For starters, it can help keep kids occupied on long car rides or entertain them while you get some work done.
Besides, with the explosion of educational apps, and mental stimulation software, screen time can do a lot of good. Sadly, it also means that high-energy blue light is hurting your child's young eyes and brains.
What is blue light?
The spectrum of visible lights has different wavelengths of light. Blue light has a short wavelength and high frequency. In fact, blue light is only slightly longer and less powerful than ultraviolet waves. Health experts have cautioned against the damaging effects of ultraviolet rays, which can harm the eyes and skin. High-frequency blue light rays are nearly as powerful too.
How blue light impacts your child's health
While new research shows that blue light from handheld devices and computer screens may not pose severe health risks, some possible blue light problems include:
- Disrupts sleep
Tablets, mobile phones, and computers all emit blue light. This high-frequency light affects the body's natural sleep/wake cycle by slowing down melatonin production, the hormone that helps shut off the brain.
When blue light passes through the pupil and touches the optic nerve, it transmits a signal to the pineal gland to switch off the melatonin faucet in the brain, hence reducing melatonin production.
A study revealed that kids are more susceptible to the melatonin-suppressing effects of blue light than men. Another study also showed that prepubescent children are more sensitive to melatonin suppression than older children.
Blue light effect on sleep is troubling as sleep supports healthy growth and development during childhood and adolescence. Children won't get the required hours of sleep for growth if the vital sleep hormone is being suppressed.
- Learning problems
When children don't sleep enough or soundly, they suffer mood swings, poor memory, and brain fog. Additionally, sleep-deprived kids are more likely to become hyperactive and aggressive. Some children may likely struggle to succeed in school.
A study on blue light's effect on sleep showed that those who don't sleep soundly as toddlers and preschoolers had more problems with emotional control, attention, and problem-solving skills at age seven.
- Poor eyesight
According to scientific data, blue light from digital screens disperses easily, which strains the eyes as they work to keep refocusing.
As children gaze for long stretches at digital screens, their eyes work overtime to refocus the light. These long gazes can cause eye strain in children, headaches, sore eyes, and blurred vision.
Studies have also revealed that excess screen time and the absence of natural light exposure are all connected to increasing rates of near-sightedness amongst children.
- Weight gain
Just like adults, if a child continues to sleep less, he or she is at risk of diabetes, weight gain, and other severe physical health problems.
A 2016 study showed that higher artificial light exposure contributed to an increased BMI. Although the mechanism behind this is not particularly clear yet, we know that exposure to blue light can cause poor sleep, stress, tiredness, and less physical activity.
How to reduce the negative impacts of blue light exposure
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests limiting kids' entertainment screen time to two hours daily. Also, parents should endeavor to remove all digital devices from their children's bedrooms, especially during bedtime to prevent blue light problems.
You can also enforce a digital curfew – a time to turn off all blue light-emitting devices. A curfew is more difficult to implement with older kids who may need a tablet or computer for homework. In that case, you need to dim the brightness of their screen if possible or ask them to take screen breaks.
Dimmed screens and screen breaks might help reduce the impact of blue light exposure. But what about study lamps and bed lamps?
Children also get exposed to blue light from LED bulbs. Although these are great energy savers, they emit high-frequency blue light than incandescent bulbs.
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