How Screen Time Affects Sleep
When kids struggle to sleep well at night, there are many potential culprits. Anxiety, bed wetting, sleep disorders and a general unwillingness to slow down and rest are all possibilities. A possibility you might not consider is screen time, though screens can have a profound effect on your child’s ability to get to sleep and stay asleep through the night.
The Effect of Screen Time
Most parents are well aware of screen time guidelines for children. Generally, up to two hours of screen time each day is recommended. But with TV, video games, online interactions, even digital homework, children can easily exceed two hours of screen time each day.
Screen time requires caution because of its stimulating nature. Video games, even watching TV can be exciting or scary for children, leading to anxiety about going to sleep or sparking nightmares. And interacting online with friends might affect children emotionally, which could be a particular problem when it’s time to head off to bed.
For children, screen time is probably more fun than sleep. They may be tempted to delay bedtime so they can finish watching a movie, chat with friends, or get to the next level on their game. That can add up to lost sleep.
But it’s not necessarily the nature of the activity that affects sleep as much as the screen itself. Screens emit blue wave light, which mimics daytime. Exposure to blue wave light may not be a problem during the day, when our eyes are naturally exposed to daylight, but blue wave light at night can have a negative effect.
When children (and adults) are exposed to blue wave light in the evening or late at night, it’s confusing for the circadian rhythm, the natural clock governing our bodies that tells us when it’s appropriate to be asleep or awake. Blue wave light tells the brain it’s daytime, sending signals to stay awake and alert no matter how close you are to bedtime.
How Much Screen Time is Too Much?
Though excessive screen time can have other implications, the good news for sleep is it’s not necessarily the quantity of screen time that can pose a problem for kids. According to new research the amount of screen time has a negligible effect: for each hour of screen time, children lose about three to eight minutes of sleep. That means a child will probably lose up to about 15 minutes less sleep for every two hours of screen time. While 15 minutes of sleep isn’t insignificant, losing it isn’t going to cause major sleep deprivation.
But what is important is the timing of screen exposure. If kids are otherwise healthy and still getting plenty of physical activity, you shouldn’t be especially concerned about screen time during the day, when blue wave light exposure is normal. But at night, when screen time can introduce unnatural light for the hour, it’s best to cut back or eliminate exposure.
How You Can Help Kids Manage Screen Time
Screen time is alluring for kids, and you’re likely to be met with resistance when placing limits. But you can help kids enjoy screens while still getting the sleep they need by offering support and managing screen time.
Place a hard limit on evening screen time. If you want to be loose with limits on screens, daytime is best. Night is a different story. Be clear about when screens are appropriate and when they’re not. Generally, screen time should be cut off about an hour before bed. But if your kids seem especially affected by screen time at night, it may be helpful to stop screens by dusk.
Ensure kids have enough time to sleep. Plan ahead and schedule your child’s time at night based on when they need to wake up in the morning, counting backwards by how many hours of sleep they need depending on their age (which could be 12 hours or more). Maintain a regular sleep schedule and make it clear that when it’s time for bed, screen time is over.
Encourage physical activity. Screen engagement is often a sedentary activity, but physical activity is important for sleep. Kids need to be active and get physically worn out during the day so they can rest well at night, so make sure screen time isn’t interfering with getting enough time outside in active play.
Screens are a part of modern life for kids, but they can pose a problem for sleep. How do you manage screen time at home?
Jackie Kepler is a MattressReviews.net sleep professional. She enjoys sleeping with cats, but sleeps on a king size bed because she needs her space, too.
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