By Deb Courson Smith

Youngsters today in Montana and around the nation are not getting enough sleep, according to a new report that looks at the amount of time children spend indoors on electronic devices–and how this over-stimulation affects their sleep.

A generation ago, says report author Kevin Coyle, vice president for education and training at the National Wildlife Federation, children spent hours outdoors playing and interacting with others. Today, the average Montana child or teenager spends seven to eight hours per day on a computer or cell phone, playing video games or watching television.

“This has a number of implications for the kids; their health, their overall fitness levels. There are a number of reasons why we think that this new ‘indoor child’ phenomenon in American society has really affected the ability of children to get a good night’s sleep.”

Youngsters ages eight through 18, on average, are losing from 10 to 14 hours of sleep per week because they are over-stimulated by electronic use, Coyle says. Some ways parents can help children obtain more balance is to make sure they’re getting exercise outdoors, he says, because the natural light helps promote sleep. He also suggests trying to get kids unplugged from computers, cell phones and TVs at least an hour before bedtime.

Emily McKhann is co-founder of TheMotherhood.com, an online community for moms. With two young daughters, she acknowledges it is not always easy for parents to make time to get their children outdoors, but says it’s important to find a way to work it in.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is actually give them some time to run around outside before they head off to school, just to start the day with some fresh air.”

For more tips to get children to spend more time outside and reduce their “screen time,” a new online guide is available for parents and caregivers, at beoutthere.org.

The report, “Green Time for Sleep Time,” is at nwf.org.