Screens Diminish Children’s Sleep Quality

Encourage children to wind down with a predictable routine prior to bedtime

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

While you may feel you readily wind down in the evening by watching television—and perhaps fall asleep while binging watching a favorite show—it is not the ideal way to induce sleep, especially for children.

As an additional drawback of too much screen time, watching videos or playing games just before bedtime can inhibit children’s sleep.

Screen time may not delay children’s bedtime; however, a study from The National Sleep Foundation indicates that people who use devices with screens just before bed experience poorer sleep quality than those who did not use the devices.

“It’s a well-known fact that the blue light from screens can affect sleep-wake cycles,” said physician Edward D. Lewis, fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, board certified pediatrician and owner of Lewis Pediatrics in Rochester. “Kid shouldn’t be on screens within an hour or so of wanting to fall asleep. Staying off screens helps their bodies to get settled down to sleep.”

Lewis is the current president of the American Academy of Pediatrics NY Chapter 1.

Allowing children to keep devices in their rooms is inadvisable. While your children may say that they stay off their phones or tablets at bedtime and keep them away from their beds, Lewis said that may not be enough. Not only is the temptation strong to check for messages “one more time,” but just the presence of the phone in the room may be detrimental to good sleep.

“Some studies have shown if your phone is in your room you don’t sleep as well because you’re wondering who’s messaging you and wondering if it will ring,” Lewis said.

He also views evening screen time as adding yet more screen time to children’s day. Since many children still have several hours of screen time for school a few days per week, adding more screen time during their leisure hours cuts into time for hands-on activities.

Michael G. Martin, pediatrician at Gladbrook Pediatrics in Rochester, also recommends limiting screen time, particularly screen time before bed and especially if it involves social media.

“It opens up a whole area of social abuse,” Martin said. “I’ve always felt strongly that my kids should not be on social media until well into their teen years. By and large, this kind of thing can be detrimental.”

Stressing over likes and posted comments can certainly make it difficult to sleep.

While up to an hour or so of gaming or watching a video each day is fine, excessive gaming prevents children from interacting with people in-person. Those interactions are important for understanding how to get along with others.

For those who will not reduce their late-night texting, Martin said that their device’s dimming feature can help mitigate the effects of the screen. However, setting it aside well before bedtime is ideal.

Instead of engaging with screens before bed, encourage children to wind down with a predictable routine such as a bath or shower, reading and a light snack before they prepare for bed.

While physical activity is vital for good health, vigorous activity directly before bed can elevate body temperature and energize children rather than cause them to settle. It is better to exercise earlier in the day.