If you’re having trouble getting your kids to sleep well at night, it could be more than normal developmental behavior. Kids who use smartphones right before bed are at a particular risk of sleep disruption from screen time.
Late night screen time is harmful to sleep at all ages. The blue wave light emitted by screens is stimulating and confusing to circadian rhythms. Your eyes see the bright light and think it’s daytime, and therefore time to be awake. But it’s actually bedtime.
A survey of child technology and sleep habits revealed that children who use technology before bed are more likely to experience less sleep and lower sleep quality. They are at a greater risk of fatigue in the morning. Children that watch TV or use cell phones before bed are at risk of higher body mass indexes.
Children and adolescents with still developing brains are especially vulnerable to sleep disruption from screen time. With larger pupils and more transparent lenses, children have a greater sensitivity to light. When light hits the retina of a child’s eyes, it suppresses production of melatonin, the hormone that induces sleepy feelings. This can make kids feel less sleepy and push back bedtimes. In fact, a study of adults and school age children exposed to the same amount and intensity of light found that melatonin levels in children were twice as lowered in than in adults.
But it’s not just light that is harmful to sleep. The digital media consumed using smartphones at night can be psychologically stimulating. Playing a violent game, texting with friends, or even listening to exciting music can be harmful for sleep due to cognitive arousal.
Storing mobile devices in bedrooms can be problematic for child sleep. A recent meta review of child sleep studies found that the simple presence (and likely use) of a mobile device in the sleeping environment of children at bedtime increases the risk of inadequate sleep quantity and poor sleep quality.
How Parents Can Help Kids Manage Screen Time and Sleep Better
Setting limits on screen time can support healthier sleep for children (and adults). Consider these recommendations for managing screen time and improving sleep.
Quit screen time at least one hour before bed. Make the hour just before bed screen free, including smartphones, video games, and television. Instead, encourage children to read, clean up, reflect on the day, and go through a regular bedtime routine. These activities are more supportive of winding down and relaxing than screen time.
Don’t keep electronics in kids’ bedrooms. Children and teens will sleep better without screens in their room. Limit screen time to family areas such as the living room or game room. Don’t allow cell phones, TVs, video games, computers, or tablets in child bedrooms.
Create a supportive sleep environment. Avoiding screens in kids’ bedrooms is just the first step. Make sure their bedroom is quiet, dark, cool, and comfortable. Choose an appropriate mattress for their needs, and consider using blackout curtains, fans, and a white noise machine to help them sleep better at night.
Set a good example. Practice what you expect your children to do and shut down screens when it’s time for you to go to bed. Consider storing mobile devices and other electronic media outside of your bedroom at night.
Screens are everywhere in daily life, and although it can sometimes be difficult to limit screen time for children, draw the line at bedtime. Help children sleep better by avoiding screens for at least one hour before bed and don’t allow electronic devices in children’s bedrooms.
Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.
You can also join our Private Facebook Page here so that you are sure to NEVER miss another one of our deals!
This post may contain affiliate links