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Is your children's computer time affecting their sleep patterns?

Computer Use and the Body's Sleep Functions

As a parent, there's certainly a lot to worry about when kids use the computer. We worry about what Web sites they're stumbling across, whether the computer games they're playing are age-appropriate and even about the health effects of long hours spent sitting in front of a glowing screen. But spending time using a computer, especially right before bedtime, can also throw their sleep-wake cycles out of whack.

Computer use can alter body chemistry in ways that make it tough to get to sleep. For instance, a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation explained that exciting media content, whether it's TV, computers or video games, increases the release of stress and arousal hormones in the body. These hormones can lead to delayed sleep and poor sleep quality. Engaging with interactive media, like computer games, also increases alertness hormones and makes it harder for kids to disengage when it's time to go to bed. If kids have a tough time settling their mind or relaxing after intense or prolonged computer use, they might have difficulty falling asleep, too.

And that's not all. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that exposure to bright light from the computer screen decreases the body's production of melatonin, which tricks your body into thinking it's time to wake up, not go to sleep. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate the body's sleep-wake cycle, and without it your sleep habits can get pretty unbalanced. At night, the body's temperature also drops. But exposure to bright light at night can cause the body's temperature to stay higher than normal, which can also mess up your sleep cycle.

Yet another way computer use can impact sleep is if it replaces physical activity. People who stay physically active tend to sleep easier, and if kids are spending more time on the computer and less time being active, it can definitely have an impact on their sleep.