Screen time before bed – is it ok?

16/08/2018 Help for Parents

Screen Time Before Bed Gets in the Way of Your Child’s Sleep

Guest post – written by

If you’ve ever tried to deal with a sleep-deprived toddler, you probably understand how important sleep is to a child’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. However, modern technology has begun to interfere with this most basic of biological needs. If your children are having trouble falling and staying asleep, the amount and timing of their screen time might be the culprit.

Stimulating the Eyes and Brain

Smartphones, iPads, laptops, and televisions all have screens that can give off a bright blue light that interferes with the sleep-wake cycle. Your circadian rhythms, which control your sleep-wake cycle, rely on natural light exposure to correctly time the release of sleep hormones. Special photoreceptors in the eyes called ganglion cells are ultrasensitive to blue light, which happens to be emitted by both daylight and electronic screens.

When your child watches a screen before bed, the ganglion cells send messages directly to the part of the brain that controls the circadian rhythms. While it may be nighttime outside, the brain is getting the signal but it’s time to be awake and sleep hormones aren’t released.

Studies that have explored the relationship between electronic media use and sleep patterns of school-age children have found that increased use of smartphones, video games, and televisions causes a delay in the onset of sleep and a shortened overall sleep time. Less sleep means grumpy, irritable kids the next day.

Screen time also affects sleep quality. A study published in Sleep Medicine found that children with a television in their bedroom experienced more sleep terrors, nightmares, and sleep talking. All these behaviours can cause wakefulness and reduce the overall amount of time your child spends asleep, again, leading to next day irritability and moodiness.

However, you can get your child’s brain back in sync.

Less Screen Time + Healthy Sleep Habits = Better (and More) Sleep

It can take two or three hours for the effects of screen exposure to wear off so make sure that screens are turned off in plenty of time. However, you can do more than turn off the TV to help your child get a good night’s rest.

  • Have a Bedtime and Stick to It: This is one area where you don’t want to be lenient. Try to get your kids to bed at the same time every night as often as possible. Consistency allows their brains to correctly time the release of sleep hormones and helps their bodies learn to follow their own circadian rhythms. Just because they have a scheduled bedtime doesn’t mean they can’t stay up late once in a while, as long as the majority of the time, they’re getting the rest they need.
  • Get Comfortable: For children, more so than adults, comfort is a big issue. Not only do they need to be physically comfortable, which means a mattress that’s supportive without any scratchy tags, but they also need emotional comfort. For example, a favourite blanket or stuffed animal that makes them feel safe so they can fall asleep if they wake up during the night.
  • Calming Bedtime Routine: Bedtime routines help your children bring down their energy levels before bed and trigger the release of sleep hormones. Try reading a book, singing quiet songs, or listening to calming music before bed. Other children may do better with a warm bath or some quiet cuddle time. Perform each activity in the routine in the same order at the same time each day for the best results.

Screen time isn’t bad, but it has to be used wisely. With consistency and a little planning, you can help your children get the rest they need.