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Putting relationship at the Center of Learning

How is technology affecting sleep and relationships?

LeAnn Nickelsen, M.Ed. has written a wonderful post on this blog highlighting the importance of sleep to learning and memory.  In this post she points out the negative effect that screens can have on the quality of sleep and the need for parents to control screen exposure for both themselves and their children, especially during the evening.  [1]

LeAnn cites research indicating that limiting screen exposure in general improves quality of sleep and that exposure to screens within two hours of going to bed can raise stress levels, excite the brain, and deter the production of melatonin, a natural chemical produced in our bodies to induce sleep.

To add to the problem of harming learning and memory, a review of research by Cara Palmer and Candice Alfano highlights the emotional and relational problems that arise from a lack of sleep. [2]  Most of us describe our sleepless condition as just being cranky.  The research gives us a better idea of what this crankiness involves.

Palmer and Alfano show that sleep deprivation leads to less positive social interaction, more focus on negative or threat information, impaired decision making, poor impulse control, and difficulty in perceiving others emotions.  Sleep is therefore critical to psychological well-being and healthy relationships. It strengthens skills that children and youth are in great need of such as impulse control and decision making.  When you add this information recent research on children and light exposure, you see why helping kids control their technology and get sleep is so critical to learning, memory, emotional control, and relationships.

Higuchi, Hagafuchi et. al. determined that melatonin production suppression by light exposure was almost double in children compared to adults, and they found that room light suppressed melatonin production significantly in children when it had no effect on adults. [3]  Crowley, Cain et. al. added to this important finding that mid- and pre-pubertal children had significantly greater melatonin suppression than post-pubertal youth when exposed to light in the evenings and night. [4]

There is a huge body of evidence that shows our children are largely not getting enough sleep.  This problem is being compounded by the amount of screen exposure that children (especially young children) have in the evenings and the direct effect of suppressing the natural biological processes that induce sleep.

The focus of this series is the importance of relationships to learning.  Helping kids be their best to build and maintain those relationships and to be their best at learning requires sleep. Our responsibility as parents and educators is to make sure our children get sufficient sleep (see latest recommendations at  This means parents need to set and enforce regular sleep schedules and screen-free time before bed.  Educators need to support parents by helping children understand this need, and by helping parents build skills that enable them to set and enforce healthy boundaries for themselves and their children.

  1. Online at:
  2. Palmer, C.A., Alfano, C.A. Sleep and emotion regulation: an organizing integrative review. Sleep. Med. Rev. 2017:31, 6-16
  3. Higuchi S, Nagafuchi Y, Lee SI, Harada T. Influence of light at night on melatonin suppression in children. J Clin Endocrinol Metab . 2014;99:3298–3303.
  4. Crowley SJ, Cain SW, Burns AC, Acebo C, Carskadon MA. Increased sensitivity of the circadian system to light in early/mid-puberty. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2015;100(11):4067–4073.
Rick Doughty is a parent of three young adults and the Vice President of Administrative Services at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon. His wife Sally is a second grade teacher at a Title I school in Beaverton, Oregon. Rick is a Certified Trainer in brain-based learning through the Jenson Learning Corporation and has a master’s degree in communication studies. His passion is helping to make complex material and ideas useful and understandable. This passion is reflected in his book Fulfilled Kids, Fulfilled Parents which takes principles from neuroscience and helps us put them to use in parenting.

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