Why Screen Time Can Hurt Children’s Sleep

Learn why screen time can harm your child’s sleep and what you can do to fix it.

By Nicole Gleichmann

Our children are getting less sleep than we did when we were their age. With sleep central to our mental and physical health, this is a problem that must be addressed.

While there are many causes of young people’s sleep deprivation, screen time is one of the primary contributors. By learning how screens impact sleep and how to mitigate this negative effect, you can help your children clock enough hours snuggled in bed each night. The result? A happier, healthier kid who does better in school.

Young child's hand reaching for TV remote

How Screen Time Negatively Affects Kids’ Sleep

When our kids spend time on electronic devices, their ability to sleep well at night is inhibited via multiple pathways. Here are a few.

1. Screen Emits Blue Light

Humans evolved to become sleepy when the sun sets at night. The natural light/dark cycle is connected to an internal clock known as our circadian rhythm.

Screen use late in the day increases the amount of light that we are exposed to after the sun has set, which impacts our ability to fall asleep at night. And blue light, a wavelength of light emitted in large doses by smartphones, televisions, and other electronics, is particularly powerful at making us feel awake.

2. Screen Time Is Stimulating

Movies, video games, and other forms of digital media are designed to hook us in. They can make us feel excited, scared, or enthralled. While these experiences are fun, too much stimulation late in the day can lead to difficulties calming down and falling asleep. What’s more, some kids can get hooked on a game or a show and procrastinate going to bed altogether.

3. Screen Time Replaces Beneficial Activities

When kids are watching TV, playing video games, or staring at a smartphone, they aren’t doing other activities that support their mental and physical health. And some of the activities that screens replace are known to help promote healthy sleep.

Exercise and social activities help to keep our kiddos healthy and happy. Research shows that staying active helps to support a good night’s sleep, and social activities teach our kids how to interact and build healthy relationships. When kids are using digital devices instead of playing and staying active, their sleep and social lives suffers.

How Much Is Too Much?

There is no definitive answer to the question of how many hours of screen time is too much. But as a general rule, it is best to limit the quantity of screen time based on the age of your children.

Infants should be kept away from these types of devices as much as possible. If your baby is 18 months or younger, try to avoid allowing them to use touchscreens and be with them whenever they are using electronic devices.

As for children ages five and younger, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that you limit screen time to two hours per day or less. For children older than 5 years old, they recommend being more flexible and working with your child to determine what is appropriate. Work with them to limit screen time late in the day, and monitor what they use their screens for.

Tips to Reduce Screen Time

Enroll Your Kid in Other Activities

Just like adults, many kids use screens out of boredom. If they had something else to do, they wouldn’t need to spend so much time with their smartphone or on the TV. One of the best ways to help your kids reduce their use of screen time is to enroll them in activities that they enjoy. Sports, theatre, volunteering, youth groups, and music lessons are just a few activities that you can use to distract your children from screens.

Lead by Example

We are our children’s first teachers. Their habits stem from what we have taught them. If you want to help your children limit screen time, do the same thing yourself. Read books, do things as a family, and show your kids that it is possible to live a fun and fulfilling life with less technology.

Have Set “Screen-Free” Times

Set a time for your whole family to put screens away at night. While this rule might be tough to enforce at first, it can become a habit over time, and it is much easier to stick with specific habits than vague goals. This can also encourage your family to spend some time together at the end of the night.

Reward Your Kids for Time Spent Without a Screen

If your kids are already accustomed to using screens throughout the day and night, enforcing a new rule can be challenging. Rather than argue with your kids over a new household rule, reward them for following it. Maybe they get to go to their favorite ice cream place at the end of a successful week or have their friends over for a weekend sleepover.


Conclusion

Spending time in front of screens is likely one of the primary causes of the decrease in total sleep time that our children are experiencing. Help them stay happy and healthy by limiting their use of screens, especially at night. And if you follow the same rules, you too might benefit with a more restful night’s sleep.


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