E-readers ‘damage sleep and health,’ doctors warn

This report appears on the BBC website today – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-30574260.

If you curl up under the duvet with an e-book for a bedtime read then you are damaging your sleep and maybe your health, US doctors have warned.

A team from Harvard Medical School compared reading paper books and light-emitting e-readers before sleep.  They found it took longer to nod off with an e-reader, which led to poorer quality sleep and being more tired the next morning.

Experts said people should minimise light-exposure in the evening.

It reports that “…blue light, the wavelength common in smartphones, tablets and LED lighting, is able to disrupt the body clock.  Blue light in the evening can slow or prevent the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.”

So, is this the first blog-post to encourage readers not to read blogs? – I guess it is – well at least to not read electronic devices before going to sleep, but instead, replace them with real books!

But more interesting for me is whether children are reading e-devices, tablets, etc. directly before bed and whether this is impacting on children’s learning and their well-being in general.

Lead researcher Prof Charles Czeisler told the BBC News website: “The light emitted by most e-readers is shining directly into the eyes of the reader, whereas from a printed book or the original Kindle, the reader is only exposed to reflected light from the pages of the book.”

He said disrupting sleep in turn affected health.  “We should be advising people to minimise their [light-emitting e-reader] use in the evening, particularly teenagers who are a group that are using their phones and tablets late in to the evening.”

I’d be really interested for readers to comment below on whether you let your children read electronic devices before bed, or whether they are only allowed real books.  Equally as interesting and I think more important would be to comment on whether your children always do read or are read to before bed.

I recently reviewed the teaching of reading in a school where children’s reading levels were below age-related expectations and was told that they asked children to read at home three times per week.  I told them that this had to change immediately to an expectation that children would read every day.

If we expect three times per week, it might happen once or twice; if we expect every day, hopefully it will happen 4 or 5 times.

I like to ask the children, “When is a good time to read?”  In a school I worked in recently, this was a regular question in our assemblies.  The children learnt to respond, “Anytime!” Accompanied with a list of suggestions from the children for when it was good to read.  They would suggest:

  • When you first wake up
  • Before you go to sleep
  • As soon as you get home from school
  • In the bath
  • Before the television is switched on.
  • and so on.

This was in one of the most deprived areas in the UK and resulted in some excellent outcomes.  Changing exceptions and believing really does make a difference.

In a previous blog, I spoke about bedtime routines.  I feel strongly that bedtime stories are an important part of this and that this should be from birth (even pre-birth) onwards.  Ideally, the story should be read to your child, not necessarily always by the same parent (although I know this is not always possible, dependent on family situations), and if your child is old enough, this can be followed by the chance for your child to read to themselves for 10 minutes or so every night.

Before becoming a teacher, I took for granted that all children had a bedtime story every night, but I now know they don’t.  So teachers everywhere, this is what I urge you to promote and parents everywhere, this is what I urge you to do (apologies to those who already do this naturally).

I also thought it would be interesting to know what people are reading to their children and for this to act as a guide to other parents. – So have created this page – “What I read to my children today” – please comment and contribute each time you read to your own children.




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