Parents are often bombarded with the message that screen time is bad for kids’ sleep. Although screen time does have an effect on child sleep, it’s not an all or nothing approach.
New research indicates screen time typically has a small effect on sleep. For every hour of screen time, children may lose three to eight minutes of sleep. For a child that engages in three hours of screen time daily, that’s about 10 to 20 minutes less of sleep each night.
For a child that’s struggling to sleep well, that 10 to 20 minutes could be valuable. But in children with otherwise healthy sleep who seem to be sleeping enough each night, you might not be concerned.
However, the research does indicate screen time has an effect on sleep in children, so it’s important for parents to place healthy limits and make sure screen time isn’t getting in the way of sleep time.
Tips for Healthy Screen Time
Follow these tips to make screen time productive and minimize its impact on sleep.
- Mix screens with other activities. It’s easy to get wrapped up in screen time and forget to anything else. Encourage children to mix screen time with other activities throughout the day. Children should get at least an hour of physical activity, which can help them sleep better at night. It’s also a good idea to prioritize homework and other responsibilities over screen time so children can manage stress and anxiety better. For example, pushing homework until late at night after spending hours online can sabotage sleep.
- Take regular breaks. Nonstop screen time isn’t healthy at any age. It can strain your eyes and result in long periods of sitting. And it can be stressful on the brain to engage in constant stimulation without a break. Encourage children to pause at least once each hour to rest their eyes, get up, stretch, and do something else for a few minutes. After that, they can resume screen time if they’d like to.
- Set limits on hours. Though the amount of screen time children engage in each day isn’t necessarily a concern for sleep, bedtime screen time is still a problem. Even if you’re lenient with screens throughout the day, bedtime is when screens need to be shut down. The blue light waves emitted from electronic screens can be confusing for the circadian rhythm, sending a signal that it’s daytime (time to be awake and alert), even when it’s time to sleep. It’s a good idea to make shutting down screens at least one hour before bed part of your family’s bedtime routine.
- Avoid bedroom screen time. Even if you don’t stop screen time an hour before bed, it definitely has to stop before kids actually get in bed. Screen time, especially mobile devices in bed, can enable kids to push bedtime further and further out as they stay engaged with electronics. And even when the screens turn off, screen time so close to actual sleep time can leave kids feeling too stimulated to actually drift off to sleep. You can make your child’s bedroom more comfortable for sleep by placing a hard rule against screen access in their room.
Screen time can be educational, fun, and engaging, but it does have an impact on sleep. Help your child manage the balance of screen time and sleep by setting limits that work for your family.
Samantha Kent is a researcher for SleepHelp.org. Her favorite writing topic is how getting enough sleep can improve your life. Currently residing in Boise, Idaho, she sleeps in a California King bed, often with a cat on her face.