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Does Screen Time Affect Sleep In Children?

Updated: Jun 13

Okay, let’s talk about a topic that’s likely familiar to every parent out there: screen time. We all know it’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s a handy tool for keeping kids entertained, and on the other, it’s a potential sleep disruptor (not to mention the behaviour… but that’s a whole other topic for another day!)

Today, we’re going to dive deep into why too much screen time or screen time too close to bedtime might not be the best idea for your child’s sleep – and what you can do about it.

The Issue With Screens

First things first, why is too much screen time problematic? Well, the culprit here is the light these devices emit, especially the blue light. This seemingly harmless glow actually packs a punch when it comes to disrupting your child’s sleep.

Melatonin: The Sleep Hormone

Our bodies have this amazing natural sleep hormone called melatonin. It’s like a lullaby for our brains, signaling that it’s time to wind down and catch some Zs. However, the blue light from screens can mess with melatonin production. It’s like throwing a wild party when your body is trying to sleep.

Imagine this: your child is glued to their tablet or TV right before bedtime. That screen is beaming blue light directly into their eyes. Now, instead of melatonin gently whispering, “time to sleep,” it’s more like a “let’s party” message!

Circadian Rhythm: The Internal Body Clock

But wait, there’s more. Screens can also tinker with your child’s circadian rhythm, which is like their internal sleep-wake clock. Exposure to screens late at night tricks the body into thinking it’s still daytime, making it harder for your little one to settle calmly into asleep.

The Morning Motivator: Hello Early Rising

Now, here’s a sneaky side effect of too much screen time – it can turn the TV into an early morning motivator. Think about it. Your child wakes up, remembers that cartoon they love is just a remote click away, and voila, they’re out of bed before the sun even rises. Not exactly the morning routine you had in mind, right?

So, What’s The Solution?

We recommend a simple rule: no screens at least two hours before bedtime and an hour after waking in the morning. Now, of course our little one’s are not up to understanding the concept of time entirely, so it’s best to use language like; “TV is off after dinner” and “TV after breakfast” – this is much easier for a little tot to understand and for you to keep the limit.

Other Sleep-Disturbances? Nightmares And Restless Nights

Here’s another interesting bit of information: for some children, excessive screen time can lead to nightmares or disrupted sleep. Why? Well, it’s like having a vivid, action-packed movie running in their heads all night long. Their brains (and imaginations) are working overtime to process all that screen time stimulation, and it can spill over into their dreams. So, be very mindful of what your child is watching and how much screen time is on offer. Ideally, we should aim to limit our littles to no more than 1-hour and G-rated shows when unsupervised (and ditch the tablets too team!)

The Bedtime Battle: How To Wind Down

Let’s get practical. You’ve decided it’s time for a screen-free bedtime routine. But how do you help your child wind down without the soothing glow of a screen? Here are some tips to make it easier:

  1. Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine: Establish a calming pre-sleep routine that involves activities like reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing deep breathing exercises. This signals to your child’s body that it’s time to unwind.

  2. Dim the Lights: Lower the lighting in your child’s room as bedtime approaches. This helps their body recognize that it’s time to prepare for sleep. Keep a nightlight on for the night, make sure its a red/warm tone so we don’t funk with the melatonin situation!

  3. Set a Screen Curfew: Make it a household rule that screens are off at least two hours before bedtime – get out the puzzles, drawing and books instead.

  4. Lead by Example: As parents, we can set a positive example by reducing our own use of devices. Seriously, our kids are growing up watching us look at our phones – if you don’t want to see it when they’re teenagers, then lead by example now.

In the grand scheme of things, the key is finding the right balance and timing to ensure that it doesn’t interfere with your child’s (and your) sleep.

By creating a screen-free buffer zone before bedtime and introducing calming bedtime rituals, you can help your child enjoy a more restful night’s sleep. Plus, less early-morning cartoon binge-watching means more peaceful mornings for you too!

If you’re in struggle street with screen time, bedtimes or both, check out our incredible Toddler Sleep Guide – packed with actionable practical strategies to sorting sleep out!

Until next time! Happy sleeping!

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