Screen Time Before Bed Could Be Wrecking Your Kids' Sleep

by Christina Marfice
Originally Published: 
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A new study says kids need several screen-free hours before bed if they’re going to get their best sleep

Is there anything worse than being sleep deprived? The slowness. The trouble focusing. The lack of motivation. And when kids are tired? They have all of those symptoms, but to even greater extremes. It’s so important for kids to get good sleep, and enough of it. They need it to excel in school, to grow, to not drive their parents bonkers.

A team out of the University of Colorado, Boulder found that using anything with a screen in the hours leading up to bedtime causes kids to sleep less and get poorer quality sleep. As tough as it can be to wrestle kids away from TVs, video games and tablets, especially during quiet, after-dinner hours — it might just be necessary.

“Of more than five dozen studies looking at youths ages 5 to 17 from around the world, 90% have found that more screen time is associated with delayed bedtimes, fewer hours of sleep, and poorer sleep quality,” a statement describing the study read. The full review, which was published in this month’s issue of the Pediatrics medical journal, found that there are a few different reasons kids’ sleep is so affected by screen use right before bedtime. First, the content is too stimulating and wakes them up, especially if it’s video or mobile games. Second, the light emitted from mobile devices has some shocking effects on the body, including reducing melatonin, which can wreak havoc on kids’ circadian rhythms. Lastly, since so many kids have their own mobile devices that they can sneak into their rooms, many of them are staying up past bedtime to watch shows and play games.

“Screen-based media devices are present in the bedrooms of 75% of children, and 60% of adolescents report viewing or interacting with screens in the hour before bedtime,” the study concluded. “Data from a cross-sectional study of 454 adolescents revealed that 60% kept their mobile phones with them when they went to bed and 45% used their phones as an alarm, a reflection of the high prevalence of digital media in the sleep spaces of adolescents.”

That’s not even all of the bad news. The National Sleep Foundation conducted a poll in 2014 that found that over 30% of elementary-school children and well over 50% of both middle and high school students don’t get the doctor recommended amounts of sleep for their age groups. And not only is getting enough sleep important for kids on the day-to-day; childhood sleep deprivation is linked to higher rates of obesity, psychological problems, reduced cognitive functioning and increased risk-taking behaviors at later ages, according to the authors of that study.

Getting screens away from kids before bedtime might be a battle at first, but establishing some firm rules for bedtime routines could have a seriously positive effect on their health. They authors of the study recommend families “remove all electronic media from their children or teenagers’ bedrooms, including televisions, video games, computers, tablets, and cell phones.”

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