Blue Light and Sleep: How much is too much?

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Is there a greater impact on kids with Special Needs?

As part of our Sleep Series, we examine the dangers of blue light and its effect on sleep. The prevalence of parent-reported sleep difficulties for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Development Disabilities and/or Intellectual Disabilities can be as high as 89%

Although difficult to precisely measure due to age, nature of a child’s disability and type of sleep disturbance reported, it seems that it’s safe to say that perhaps a majority of children with a developmental disability have some kind of disturbance with sleep.

blue light screen protector

Sleeplessness impacts entire families

If you’re part of that 89% you know the profound impact sleeplessness has on your child, family and day-to-day life. You’re exhausted, existing on coffee, trying desperately to preserve what’s left of your very last nerve.

Pediatricians aren’t always ready to help

My daughter has had multiple diagnoses for several years, but when she was a baby, she was nearly inconsolable she cried so much. “Colic,” the pediatrician would tell me, along with the ever-famous and insensitive “Don’t worry, she’ll grow out of it.”

The iPad seemed to be calming

Well, it’s a good thing we didn’t hold our breath waiting [insert eye roll here]. I remember trying everything to distract her and alleviate the screaming. She liked toys that had lights and sounds – LOUD sounds. As she got a little older, she loved watching videos on the iPad – and would sit calmly and quietly for a stretch of time. No meltdowns. No crying. Just quiet bliss.

She was not a kid who slept. Oh, sure, I had a set routine and bedtime just like the pediatrician told me to do. I tried walking, rocking, singing — heck, I’d have danced a Broadway number if I thought it meant she’d sleep. She’d generally fall asleep around 11pm, only to wake between 1 and 3 am for the day.

Resistance to bedtime became the norm

What I didn’t realize until I began to observe and log her sleep habits, is that her resistance to sleep and early awakenings seemed to happen when she used the iPad within an hour and a half before bed. Resistance to going to bed happened more often on the weekends (when she used it more often). When I analyzed the results, it left me with two burning questions: (1) Did lack of a consistent schedule on weekends (like she had in school) contribute to bed time resistance? (2) Would reduction in iPad time help?

I decided to test both of those theories by creating a visual bedtime schedule, and stopping iPad use 2 hours before bedtime – and track it on a sleep log.

There are many studies that show the impact of blue light on sleep. Harvard Health reports that prolonged exposure to blue light can impact circadian rhythm, the biological rhythms that include the internal clock which influences when, how much, and how well people sleep. Moreover, studies have shown a possible link between lack of sleep and cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

We use learning apps on a tablet, now what?

With so many great learning apps at our fingertips, and more schools incorporating screen-time into learning, it’s impossible to evade all blue light exposure, but there are some things that can be done to reduce it:

  • Set an electronic “bed time” – when the whole family puts their phones, tablets, etc. to sleep for the night
  • Stop using tablets 2 hours before bedtime
  • Use blue light blocking technology to reduce exposure when electronics are used
  • Be prepared with a list of fun activities to replace electronics

We implemented a visual schedule, a ‘curfew’ for our electronics, and installed a blue light blocking screen on the iPad. We noticed an improvement in sleep within the first two weeks: Less middle-of-the-night awakenings, and less resistance to the bedtime routine.

Our blue-light hypothesis was further supported in the summer when we went camping. Camping in our family means no electronics and lots of outdoor light. Of course, it also includes more exercise, which helps the sleep cause as well – but as a family we get our best sleep while camping!


There are many studies to support that our blue light exposure wreaks havoc on our sleep. For kids with special needs who often already experience disordered sleep – this can contribute to chronic sleep deprivation.

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