Children are increasingly using electronic devices for study, to socialise with friends and for entertainment. But what effect might that last round of Fortnite or episode on Netflix be having on your child’s sleep? As the presence of electronic devices in our kids’ lives isn’t going away anytime soon, it is important to understand its potential consequences in order to navigate a healthy balance.
Why is sleep so important?
In between school, homework, sport, extra-curricular activities and socialising, the average child has a busy day. A good night’s rest is important for both our brain and body. Children’s brains process and consolidate memories while they are asleep, helping them remember important things they have learned throughout the day. Quality sleep routines can also improve your child’s mood and ability to focus for long periods of time and help them absorb more information when they are learning. Children’s bodies need rest too—muscle growth and repair take places while we sleep. Sleep is also important for maintaining a strong immune system.
Research has shown that short sleep duration is associated with poorer concentration, academic achievement, and an increased risk of obesity and depression. Fortunately, these negative effects improve when sleeping hours are extended in children and adolescents (Matricciani et al., 2013). Children and teens need different amounts of sleep: preschool children need 11-13 hours a day (including naps), school age children require 10-11 hours per night, and teenagers approximately 8-10 hours.
How does screen time before bed interfere with sleep?
Screens including televisions, computers, phones, tablets, e-readers such as Kindles and video game consoles have been found to interfere with the duration and quality of sleep time. There are a few main reasons for this effect.
Firstly, time spent in front of screens means that children have less time available to sleep. Games, social media and video sharing platforms have been designed to keep users engaged for as long as possible. The never-ending feeds on Instagram, the auto-play feature on YouTube and Netflix, and just-out-of-reach next level in video games all make it difficult to break away. Time spent scrolling, watching and playing eats into the time children can sleep before they have to wake up for school the next morning.
In addition, the nature of the content that children consume on screens is very exciting. Interesting TV shows, social interactions with friends and fun games stimulate children and teens. This makes it difficult to reach the relaxed, comfortable state essential for falling and staying asleep.
The last reason is the one most commonly talked about when it comes to screen time and sleep: blue light. Electronic screens emit a blue light which provides a strong signal to your brain that it is wake-time. This stops the release of melatonin, the body’s sleep-inducing hormone. The greater the amount of time spent in front of screen in the evening, the greater the release of melatonin. This interferes with our body’s natural sleep/wake cycles, making a restful night’s sleep a challenge (Hale & Guan, 2015).
What is the solution?
The answer lies in sleep hygiene. ‘Sleep hygiene’ refers to the habits which help you to have a restful night’s sleep. This involves making sure your bedroom is comfortable and conducive to sleep, as well as building a bedtime routine that works for your family. We have several articles on our blog which explore this topic in depth. To learn more about how to limit screen time and develop healthy sleep habits for your child or adolescent, check out the following:
- How to Improve Sleep in Younger Children
- Improving Sleep for Adolescents
- Screen Time Withdrawal in Children
Matricciani, L., Blunden, S, Rigney, G., Williams, M.T., & Olds, T.S., (2013). Children’s sleep needs: Is there sufficient evidence to recommend optimal sleep for children? Sleep, 36(4), 527-534. doi: 10.5665/sleep.2538.
Hale, L., & Guan, S., (2015). Screen time and sleep among school-aged children and adolescents: A systematic literature review. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 21, 50-58. doi: 0.1016/j.smrv.2014.07.007