Screen Time and Sleep

September 25, 2016

As parents we all have our ideal version of the day and exactly how much screen time our children will be exposed to.  As a mom of three boys, I too have that that ideal number in my head and some days we manage to get to bedtime with little to no screen time and other days a couple extra episodes of the show of the week is the only way to survive.  I’m realistic, I understand, but we also need to try to make those days of extra screen time an exception and not the rule, especially before bed.


One rule that I do maintain a strict hold on is the link between naptime or bedtime and screen time.  TV, video games, ipads and smartphones don’t mix with sleep.  There has been a significant amount of research around this specific topic for both adults and children.  Researchers have concluded that children who are exposed to more screen time within 90 minutes of going to sleep took significantly longer to fall asleep than the children who watched less or none at all.


Is taking longer to fall asleep a bad thing?  Well it can be.  Taking longer to fall asleep means that your child is ultimately getting less sleep.  Some studies show that the cumulative sleep loss when a child spends just 30 minutes using screens before bed can add up to over an hour per week of lost sleep.  In addition to sleep loss, when a toddler or preschooler is left for a long time to fall asleep they are more likely to try and get you involved in the process.  This is where we see multiple curtain calls, extra bathroom visits and excuses to get you into the room.  It is frustrating for them trying to fall asleep and not succeeding, just as it is for us adults when we just can’t fall asleep.


When your child is watching TV or playing a videogame or exploring your tablet or smartphone, their brain is aroused or awakened by the activity.  That type of arousal is what makes it harder for them to then fall asleep.


The blue light being emitted from the electronic devices can also affect our children’s circadian rhythm.  Our natural circadian rhythm is our body’s way of knowing when to fall asleep and when to be awake.  These devices alter our natural circadian rhythm specifically at nighttime by reducing our melatonin production – a naturally occurring hormone which helps us synchronize our circadian rhythm and sleep,


The cumulative sleep deprivation can also be linked to other health concerns for children.  A lack of sleep can contribute to behavioural problems in toddlers, preschoolers and school-aged children.  Children with a history of sleep deprivation, have also shown a link to ADHD diagnoses.  Sleep deprivation has also been linked to depression in children and can contribute to childhood weight gain and obesity.  Sleep for children is just as important in terms of growth and development as nutrition.  Children need adequate sleep to grow emotionally, physically and mentally.


So if screen time is currently part of your naptime or bedtime routine and you are committed to making the change try to do so gradually.  Just like us adults, our children our creatures of habit.  Removing TV or electronics cold turkey may cause more problems at first.  Screen time itself is not a bad thing when exposed in moderation and not before a nap or bedtime.  Start by reducing the amount of screen time your child is allowed before bed.  Try to re-organize your day to allow screen time to happen at a more convenient time of the day.  More importantly replace the screen time with a different activities during your naptime or bedtime routine.  Quiet games, books, colouring or puzzles are all calming activities that can help set the mood and prepare your child for bed.


If you need assistance in redeveloping your child’s bedtime routine and help them to fall asleep on their own contact Family Bliss today to create a customized sleep plan for your family.