Is Technology Affecting the Way Children Sleep?

Technology is helping our children to dream bigger during the day, but is it hindering their sleep at night?

by Joshua Charpentier

Some research suggests, that kids who accessed social media devices regularly before bedtime reported sleeping nearly an hour less on school nights than those students who rarely connected online. When children don’t get enough sleep they can become cranky, moody, and can run the risk of developing a host of physical and behavioural problems. With more and more children becoming “connected” at younger and younger ages, sleep specialists are starting to see links between screen time – the use of computers, cellphones, T.V., and social media devices – and poor sleep hygiene.

Researchers from the University of Sydney determined that there is a dose-response relationship between the use of electronic devices in bed prior to sleep and sleep patterns in children. Children who overused media devices (computer, cellphones, and T.V.) experienced delayed sleep onset, decreased sleep duration, increased sleep disturbances, and difficulties achieving and maintaining sleep.

How does screen time impact sleep?

Dr. Daniel Willingham, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Virginia, says that screen time can hamper sleep in four main ways:

  • Biological changes in adolescence – The hormones melatonin, which makes you sleepy, and cortisol, which is responsible for wakefulness are internal biological cues that establish the sleep/wake cycle. These hormone levels can change in a child as they go through adolescence. That means that the internal signals about when one should be sleepy and when one should be awake are weaker in teens than young children. This weakness in melatonin and cortisol signals means that teenagers are more susceptible to external cues such as light and sound that is keeping them awake.
  • Time of use – Frequent technology use near bedtime is associated with significant adverse effects on multiple sleep parameters. The use of electronic media can lead to delays in a child’s bedtime, decreased sleep duration, difficulty falling asleep, and daytime sleepiness.
  • Content – Engaging the brain in active or provocative events through video gaming, movie or television watching, or communicating through social media can make it more difficult for children to go to sleep. Also, evening T.V. viewing in children is associated with delayed sleep onset and daytime drowsiness.
  • Light emissions – Light from electronic devices (LED displays) may confuse the natural circadian rhythmic cycles in the body. These cycles regulate the body’s ability to fall asleep and wake up. Exposure to external (blue-wavelength) light increases alertness and suppresses the release of the hormone melatonin, which is a key factor in regulating sleep.

How can parents help children sleep?

Parents need to be aware of how and when a child is accessing an electronic device or social media. Changes can be made and could have far reaching physical, psychological, and behavioural benefits for the child.

  • Remove the screens – Arianna Huffington, author of the best-selling book, “The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time”, is calling all of us, young and old, to bed. She recommends that our sleeping environments should be void of electronic devices and distractions. A sanctuary where sleep is treated with respect and ritualistically. It is through this habitual process that people can establish strong routines and practice healthy sleep hygiene.
  • Stick to a consistent routine – Letting your child stay up late on weekends is a tempting proposition. Children learn how enjoyable it is to stay up later and gives them the desire to stay up late on other nights. Establish a strong routine that requires your child to go to bed at the same time every night of the week. Maintaining a consistent wake time is also as important as an established bedtime when “sleep training” your child.
  • Remove distractions – Removing access to technology at least one hour before bed is a good rule of thumb for establishing healthy sleep hygiene practices. Performing other low-cognitive activities like playing cards, reading, writing or drawing on paper can aid with the onset of sleep. This rule should apply to all members of the family, regardless of age, to help all in the family get a good night’s sleep.

What are teachers supposed to do?

For the past several years, a pilot program in three Montreal elementary schools, led by Dr. Gruber from McGill University, developed a school-based sleep promotion program geared towards students. Results of this study were published in the May (2016) edition of the journal, “Sleep Medicine”. The intervention involved a six-week sleep curriculum program for children, to teach them about healthy sleep habits. Materials were provided to parents, teachers, and school administrators, who were then asked to consider the demands that are put on students through school schedules, extracurricular activities and homework, and what the impacts could be on sleep.

The children who were placed in the intervention group extended their sleep by an average of 18.2 minutes per night, and sleep onset decreased by an average of 2.3 minutes. These results may seem modest, but there was a marked improvement in English and Math scores amongst the intervention students in comparison to the control group who’s sleep duration did not change, and their grades did not improve.

Something to consider

For most school-aged children, this appears to be an issue of habits and routine, technology exposure and limit-setting. We adults know that we do not get as much sleep as we should, or that we do not practice healthy sleep hygiene routines. Have we removed the screens from our bedrooms? Have we created a regular routine or avoid technology before going to bed? Sleeping habits and routines should be a family priority, and is a good way to get everyone focused on what matters: waking up rested and ready to tackle the day, in mind and body.

Are there habits and routines that you use to establish and maintain healthy sleep practices in your house? What are your feelings and opinions about technology use before bed? Provide some feedback in the section below.

Get your Students Coding with CodeCombat

Learn programming through live coding in an immersive multiplayer strategy game.

Written by: Josh Charpentier

Overview

Description

CodeCombat is a gaming platform that allows users to learn computer sciences. Users explore this web-based sword-and-sorcery game by programming characters with Python or Javascript coding languages. These programming platforms allow players to command their on-screen warrior, ranger, or wizard into action, navigating the character through the level, engage in battle, and destroying foes. Gamers are rewarded for devising clean programming solutions. However, if the user writes a buggy code or fails to find an appropriate solution, their character will wander through the level or could be destroyed by an enemy. This results in the player investing in trial and error strategies, experimentation, and collaboration with peers to find solutions. The player can also access in-game video tutorials to learn new coding strategies.

Key educational benefits of this tool:

  • Students learn and develop skills in computer science and web development.
  • CodeCombat motivates children to learn programming languages through a fun and engaging platform.
  • The important principles of coding and the step-by-step introduction of the syntax of various programming languages aids in students becoming proficient in computer science and web development.

Access Details and Cost

Free Version

  • Clicking on the Play Now button allows the user to create a character and start coding without creating an account. User progress will NOT be recoverable if the user leaves the game.
  • An individual can create a free account, by clicking here. This will allow the user to maintain in-game progression when re-entering the game.

Paid Version (Teacher and Classroom Users)

  • A teacher can create a classroom account. Each student is assigned a license and classroom code for logging into the system. The student would click on the I’m a Student button and then enter the classroom code to gain access to the game.
  • The first course (20 levels) offered to classrooms is free. However, additional courses can cost $25-$50 CAD per student per year depending on which course licenses the teacher wishes to purchase.
  • The pay for access site offers extra levels and in-game video tutorials.
  • The teacher will have access to resources and course guides to help students with programming.

Paid Version (Individual User)

  • For $9.99 US/month individual users can create an account, access premium levels, receive weekly challenges, and have email support from professional programmers.

Getting Started

Teaching Ideas

The following teaching activities can be applied to any class ranging from grades 2-12.

Idea 1 – Coding Competitions (Game Development, Computer Sciences and Mathematics)

Use CodeCombat to create coding competitions. Students will be divided into equal teams. Within their teams, students will write code for a level entitled Wakka Maul. Students will use mathematical concepts to develop code, observe how the code fares against their classmates, and then students will make improvements and resubmit.

Idea 2 – Engineering Challenge (Computer Sciences and Mathematics)

Engineering is all about tackling problems, but the first rule of engineering is that you might not get it right the first time through. Use CodeCombat to teach students about the Engineering Cycle of thought. First, students will DESIGN a solution to a problem that is presented by the teacher on the level Power Peak. Students will identify the issues and break it down into smaller parts. This includes problem-solving and finding mathematical patterns in code. Then students IMPLEMENT their design, which is putting their ideas into action. Third, they TEST their solution. Does it work? Is the problem resolved? If the test fails, students have to decide if it was because of the design or the implementation of their program. Students can discuss issues openly and collaborate on finding solutions.

Idea 3 – Reflective Writing (English and Computer Sciences)

Students can write reflections about their progression through the CodeCombat levels. The teacher can also encourage students to use coding vocabulary that has been gained through different levels of the game. The teacher could have students contemplate questions, like:

  • Do you know more code now than in the beginning? What skills do you have now that you didn’t have before?
  • What advice would you give someone just starting out in CodeCombat?
  • What kind of strategies do you use when you encounter an obstacle?

Idea 4 – Headlines and Headers (Web Development and English)

CodeCombat offers courses in web development. Students can apply their skills to writing in HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Students can write a paragraph regarding any topic, and then they can apply the elements like <p>, <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, <h4>, <h5>, <h6> to the left margin of their writing. Students can then apply additional elements of basic syntax, headers, images, and organization to design a webpage. Once students have placed the desired elements into their work, webpages are automatically published to a custom URL so that students can easily share their finished work with others.

Idea 5 – Boss Level (Computer Sciences, Mathematics and English)

Students will work collaboratively to find a creative way of defeating this boss. Students also have to apply skills in mathematics and computer sciences to develop solutions for collecting coins, hiring mercenaries, and to heal their hero (character). Students can work in pairs and they can share their strategies and tips with other teams. Students can make observations about the level on grid paper before tackling this level, and then teams can plan out their solutions.

Helpful Resources


About the Author

Josh Charpentier has been an elementary school teacher for 10 years. He has taught in the Bronx, New York, and is currently working for the P.V.N.C.C.D.S.B. in Peterborough, Ontario. He started the graduate program at UOIT in 2013 and has been completing his Master of Education degree as a part-time student for 4 years. From his experience in elementary school, he definitely sees the potential benefits of introducing computer sciences and web development teachings to students in elementary classrooms and is a proponent of technology integration in education.

email: joshua.charpentier@uoit.net   Twitter: jjncharpentier

Transformational Leadership: A key to Integrating Technology in Education

Leadership can make or break a technology initiative in your school. Strong leadership is key to any initiative through communication, collaboration, planning, creativity, trust, and experimentation.

A barrier to the adoption of technology in education is a lack of vision and weak leadership. For educational professionals to take full advantage of technology, strong leadership to create and guide all members of a school community in a shared vision to ensure effective integration and to transform instructional practices around educational technologies is required. This instructional concern requires an educational leader to use transformational leadership principles to create a working environment that will build confidence in the followers while facilitating the implementation of technology in the classroom.

What are transformational leaders?

Marks & Printy (2003) explain that “Transformational leaders motivate followers by raising their consciousness about the importance of organizational goals and by inspiring them to transcend their own self-interest for the sake of the organization” (p. 375). These leaders will create a working environment where trust and respect are promoted, and the knowledge and expertise of its members are treated as valuable parts of a whole program. These leaders will also analyze previous mistakes, challenge the way programs have been implemented in the past and will look to the team to find solutions to overcome these previous shortcomings.

4 Steps to Plan a Technology Initiative

Ahn, Bivona, and DiScala (2011) explain that there are multiple avenues to establishing educational technology policies and initiatives. Some more successful than others. Different school boards will approach integration differently, and its adoption will vary depending on the level of attention that these initiatives receive. Experts in educational technology integration suggest:

1. Plan with a Goal in Mind

As an educational community, develop a common vision and a goal for technology integration through collaboration and teamwork. Beginning your project with surveys to gather information from staff and students will ensure that the voices from all interested parties will be heard. This initial data can show the growth of your initiative and will help set the tone for the project. Technology initiatives should never funnel from “top-down” decisions, and policy initiatives should be reevaluated on a yearly basis.

2. Use Gathered Data

As previously mentioned, data from surveys can be used to assess educational needs, create instructional models, and determine technological devices that have been requested for your initiative. Project stakeholders should evaluate the status of school infrastructure to ensure that it can handle the influx of devices. Ultimately, project leaders should select devices that students and staff feel the most comfortable with, and that can be supported by the school network.

3.  Personalize Student Learning

Initiative leaders can ensure that policies and resources equip teachers with the right tools and ongoing support to differentiate instruction and personalize learning in their classrooms. Collaboration between teachers and students will create opportunities to examine observations and reflections, student work, formative and summative assessments, and data that is embedded within the software of different learning apps. In these classrooms, the teacher can design learning opportunities or guide learners to generate their own personalized learning experiences.

4. Personalize Professional Learning

Schools must commit to ensuring that technology training is available, ongoing, and relevant to professional learning. Leaders can collaborate with teachers to develop clear goals for professional development that align with the vision for student learning. Also, to create and promote the integration of technology in education, leaders and staff can use combinations of face-to-face, online, and blended professional learning communities. This will create opportunities for staff to see technology being used authentically to create learning networks between initiative leads and staff participants.

In the comments section below, please post examples of how educational leaders in your school or school board integrated technology into teaching practices.

References

Ahn, J., Bivona, L. K., & DiScala, J. (2011). Social Media Access in K-12 Schools: Intractable Policy Controversies in an Evolving WorldASIST 2011. Retrieved from http://ahnjune.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/ASIST2011_AUP.pdf

Marks, H. M., & Printy, S. M. (2003). Principal leadership and school performance: An integration of transformational and instructional leadership. Educational Administration Quarterly, 39 (3), 370-397. doi: 10.1177/0013161X03253412

Are there Health Risks with WiFi?

Radiation is used to treat malignant tumors, x-rays can help doctors diagnose internal injuries, and we are all exposed to various types of radiation through radio waves, televisions, and cellphones. Lately, questions have been raised in Ontario to the health risks related to WiFi emissions.

In recent years, leaders in the health field, politicians, and even school boards have attempted to mitigate the perceived threat of exposure to radio-frequency (RF) electromagnetic (EM) radiation, on which WiFi, radios, microwaves, Bluetooth, and mobile and cordless phones operate. The perceived threat of RF exposure might have been exacerbated when, in May 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a document from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which classified these types of EM emissions as a Group 2B, “possibly carcinogenic” agent to humans – alongside with other substances like aloe vera and carrageenan – for which the evidence of deleteriousness is uncertain. Since the update of this WHO document, many health experts have raised concerns about the risks associated with mobile phones; political leaders have gone on the record warning the public of potential health risks that can be incurred through the use of WiFi, and unions, including the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, are calling for a moratorium on WiFi device use in schools suggesting an outright ban of the technologies.

However, do we actually know the health effects of RF exposure, and, in particular, the risks associated with WiFi use? Let’s look at some of the potential health hazards related to WiFi use; what WiFi supporters are saying, and methods of lowering personal exposure to WiFi emissions.

Potential Health Concerns

1. Disturbances to Sleeping Patterns

A study conducted in 2007 by Hung, Anderson, Horne, and McEvoy evaluated low-frequency modulation transmissions from cellphones and its impact on sleep. Study participants were exposed to emissions produced by real phones through ‘talk’, ‘listen’, and ‘standby’ modes or interacted with sham (fake) phones. Subjects who engaged in talk mode had a markedly delayed sleep onset in relation to participants who engaged in listen and sham modes. Researchers also noticed that different frequencies and strengths in emission modulations (2, 8, and 217 Hz) could affect sleep onset differently.

Many researchers have concluded that keeping a phone near your bed, being exposed to in-home WiFi signals, or interacting with WiFi technologies prior to engaging in sleep can create chronic sleep disorders as EM pollution interferes with falling asleep and establishing healthy sleeping patterns (Bordely, Huber, Graf, Fuchs, Gallmann, & Achermann, 1999; Hung, Anderson, Horne, & McEvoy, 2007; National Sleep Foundation, 2014). Sleep deprivation is just the beginning to larger health problems. Decreases in sleep duration and delayed sleep onset can result in the development of depression and anxiety (Adams, Daly, & Williford, 2013; Cain & Gradisar, 2010; Harbard, Allen, Trinder, & Bei, 2016; Munezawa et al., 2011).

2. Effects to Cell Function and Growth

Exposure to non-ionizing, low-frequency EM emissions from WiFi technology and cellular devices can disrupt the development and growth of cells (Makker, Varghese, Desai, & Agarwal, 2009; Hardell & Sage, 2008). A 2009 Austrian study found that the expression levels of 38 cytoskeletal proteins (proteins that form the supporting tissue of a cell) had changed after being exposed to cellphone EM radiation (The AUVA Report, 2009). These researchers were able to determine that different tissues had varying sensitivities to EM emissions, and that cellphone radiation exposure caused “a notable change in protein synthesis profiles” (AUVA Report, 2009, p. 4). Consequently, members of the population with disease or pathophysiological conditions might see their symptoms worsen and some neurological disorders can be triggered by high rates of protein synthesis (AUVA, 2009; Makker et al., 2009).

3. Impedes Neural Function in Females

A study conducted at the National Technical University of Athens examined the influence of electromagnetic fields, similar to those that are emitted by WiFi systems, on activity within the brain (Maganioti et al., 2014). Fifteen male and fifteen female subjects performed short term memory tasks without being exposed to any EM emissions. These participants were then exposed to a 2.4 GHz WiFi access point at a distance of 1.5 meters from the right side of the head. Each non-exposure and exposure interval lasted 45 minutes. Two weeks later, participants then performed the same memory tasks in the same intervals two weeks later. Researchers noticed that in the presence of radiation, the alpha and beta band energies of male subjects were unaffected. However, in female subjects, these same energies were significantly lower. Researchers evaluated the condition of delta and theta band energies in both male and female participants, with no noteworthy effect between genders. Conversely, there was a significant interaction effect on the alpha and beta wave forms in some of the participants (Maganioti et al., 2014). This study has shown that WiFi signal emissions can influence normal physiological conditions by changing gender related corticol excitability in the alpha and beta rhythmic waveforms.

What do we know?

Different technologies emit different levels of EM radiation. Vecchia et al., (2009) from the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) conducted reviews on the health effects of EM emission exposure, particularly the radiation that is emitted by cellphones and WiFi access points. The commission concluded that mobile phones radiation exposure is localized to the head, and is relatively low EM intensity radiation. WiFi emissions are absorbed by the whole body at much lower intensities than those produced by mobile phones. When study participants reported symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, or fatigue, researchers were not able to causally relate EM emission exposure to these changes in health conditions. These conclusions supported findings from Public Health England where signals from WiFi routers are “typically 0.1 watt (100 milliwatts) …and the results so far show exposures are well within the internationally-accepted guidelines from the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).” Whether these small changes in functional performance are significant remains elusive, and more robust research is required to determine the nature and consequences of these effects as they relate to EM emission exposure.

The ICNIRP report (2009) also noted that there are some indications that EM emissions could influence blood flow in different cerebral regions, thought to correlate to changes in neural activity, particularly in the alpha and beta rhythms, during and following EM radiation exposure. However, it is unclear as to the reliability of findings because no consistent effects on cognitive performance have been found.

Regarding the impacts of RF radiation on cell development and growth, a review of evidence by Health Canada stated, “As long as RF energy levels remain below Health Canada’s RF safety guidelines, current scientific evidence supports the assertion that RF energy emissions from Wi-Fi devices are not harmful.” These conclusions are in line with the findings with other international bodies and regulators, including the WHO, the ICNIRP, Public Health England, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Potential Precautions

Ultimately, it is the choice of the user to take necessary precautions to guard against potential harmful emissions. WiFi technology has only been a ubiquitous technology for a short period of time (between 15-20 years). Even Health Canada, the WHO, and the IEEE have recommended that more research is needed to determine if there are links between RF radiation, cancer, and cognitive dysfunction.  But in the meantime, if you wanted to lower RF emission exposures from mobile phones for yourself and your children, you can follow these guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics Cell Phone Safety Tips for Families:

  • Use text messaging when possible, and use cell phones in speaker mode or with the use of hands-free kits.
  • When talking on the cell phone, try holding it an inch or more away from your head.
  • Make only short or essential calls on cell phones.
  • Avoid carrying your phone against the body like in a pocket, sock, or bra. Cell phone manufacturers can’t guarantee that the amount of radiation you’re absorbing will be at a safe level.
  • If you plan to watch a movie on your device, download it first, then switch to airplane mode while you watch in order to avoid unnecessary radiation exposure.
  • Keep an eye on your signal strength (i.e. how many bars you have). The weaker your cell signal, the harder your phone has to work and the more radiation it gives off. It’s better to wait until you have a stronger signal before using your device.
  • Avoid making calls in cars, elevators, trains, and buses. The cell phone works harder to get a signal through metal, so the power level increases.

Additionally, WiFi users can lower RF radiation exposure in several ways:

  • Turn off your WiFi before sleeping.
  • Eliminate WiFi by installing ethernet cable or ActionTec box sets.
  • Disable wireless functions on your devices when not in use.

Have you experienced any health effects from RF exposure? Do you take precautions to minimize your RF exposure? Please provide any additional information, research, and experiences in the comment section below.

References

  1. Adams, S. K., Daly, J. F., & Williford, D. N. (2013). Adolescent sleep and cellular phone use: Recent trends and implications for research. In Health Services Insights, 6, 99-103. doi: 10.4137/HIS.S11083
  2. Austrian AUVA Insurance Company. (2009). AUVA Report: Nonthermal effects confirmed; exposure limits challenged; precaution demanded. Retrieved from http://www.emrpolicy.org/news/headlines/2009_auva-report_english.pdf
  3. Bordely, A. A., Huber, R., Graf, T., Fuchs, B., Gallmann, E., & Achermann, P. (1999). Pulsed high-frequency electromagnetic field affects human sleep and sleep electroencephalogram. In Neuroscience Letters, 275(3), 207-210. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com.uproxy.library.dc-uoit.ca/science/article/pii/S0304394099007703
  4. Cain, N., & Gradisar, M. (2010). Electronic media use and sleep in school-aged children and adolescents: A review. In Sleep Medicine, 11(8), 735-742. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2010.02.006
  5. Harbard, E., Allen, N. B., Trinder, J., & Bei, B. (2016). What’s keeping teenagers up? Prebedtime behaviors and actigraphy-assessed sleep over school and vacation. In Journal of Adolescent Health, 58(4), 426-432. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2015.12.011
  6. Hardell, L., & Sage, C. (2008). Biological effects from electromagnetic field exposure and public exposure standards. In Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 62(2), 104-109. doi: 10.1016/j.biopha.2007.12.004
  7. Hung, C., Anderson, C., Horne, J. A., & McEvoy, P. (2007). Mobile phone ‘talk mode’ signal delays EEG-determined sleep onset. In Neuroscience Letters, 421(1), 82-86. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neulet.2007.05.027
  8. Maganioti, A. E., Papageorgiou, C. C., Hountala, C. D., Kyprianou, M. A., Rabavilas, A. D., Papadimitriou, G. N., & Capsalis, C. N. (2014). Wi-Fi electromagnetic fields exert gender related alterations on EEG. In Retrieved from http://www.wifiinschools.org.uk/resources/Maganioti+etal+2010.pdf
  9. Makker, K., Varghese, A., Desai, N. R., & Agarwal, A. (2009). Cell phones: modern man’s nemesis? In Reproductive BioMedicine Online, 18(1), 148-157. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1472-6483(10)60437-3
  10. Munezawa, T., Kaneita, Y., Osaki, Y., Kanda, H., Minowa, M., Suzuki, K., … Ohida, T. (2011). The association between use of mobile phones after lights out and sleep disturbances among Japanese adolescents: A nationwide cross-sectional survey. In SLEEP, 34(8), 1013-1020. doi: 10.5665/SLEEP.1152
  11. National Sleep Foundation. (2014). 2014 sleep in America poll: Sleep in the modern family. Retrieved from https://sleepfoundation.org/sites/default/files/2014-NSF-Sleep-in-America-poll-summary-of-findings—FINAL-Updated-3-26-14-.pdf