Screen Time for Kids

Kids Can’t Sleep? Try Limiting Screen Time.

After a long day, many of us want to come home and relax in front of the TV. But that instinct might affect the quality of our sleep. And for children, the effect of too much screen time too close to bedtime, can be particularly problematic.

Today’s children spend an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media. This includes the iPad you hand them to maintain a sense of peace in the car and the phone you give them when you want to get through a meal at a restaurant and the TV they’re watching while you run the bath. All of these minutes of screen time add up, and they are associated with an uptick childhood obesity and sleep disorders.

Several studies have found a significant relationship between average hours of sleep and technology use before bedtime. Children who watched TV or played video games at bedtime were recorded to get 30 minutes less of sleep than those who steered clear of screens for at least an hour before bed. And children who used a computer at bedtime had approximately 60 minutes less sleep than those who did not.

For small bodies, this lack of sleep is a big problem.

Sleep is essential for children’s physical, cognitive and emotional development. Growth hormones are primarily secreted during deep sleep (which is why it sometimes seems like your kids have grown overnight). Sleep protects kids against everything from obesity to the common cold. And school performance is also associated with getting sufficient sleep.

As a mother myself I know how much easier it is to say, “Limit screen time,” than to actually limit screen time. That said, setting boundaries will not help your kids get the rest they need but teach them healthy habits they’ll carry with them their whole lives.

I often suggest to my patients that they set a rule banning screen time for at least one hour before bed. Light from TVs and computer screens suppress melatonin and affect the quality of a child’s sleep. This is one reason why it is also important to keep devices out of bedrooms.

The “no screens before bedtime” rule will get exponentially harder to enforce as kids get older. Many kids do most of their homework on computers. While all that time Googling ancient Roman irrigation systems might not “feel” like screen time, to your kids’ brains, online research is just as much screen time as an epic video game session.

After completing several hours of homework, it’s not unreasonable for kids to want to unwind with some videogames or a favorite show. However, it’s important to monitor how that screen time is affecting sleep. The number one reason older kids in my practice have trouble sleeping is that they are using their phone too late at night. Work with your kids to allow their bodies the opportunity to wind down.

If sleep issues persist, try to make sure your child is spending enough time outdoors, getting proper exercise and eating a balanced diet. Following a regular nighttime routine is also key to getting enough shut-eye. But if you’ve tried everything and your child is still wide-eyed in the middle of the night, talk to your pediatrician. He or she might refer you to a sleep specialist.

If your child is in the habit of staring at a screen before bed (or while falling asleep), changing their bedtime habit might be unpopular. But the quality and quantity of their sleep will likely improve – rest assured.

Meet the Author

Jessica Mangonon, MD, FAAP

Dr. Mangonon grew up in Long Beach and was surrounded by medicine at an early age, both of her grandparents were physicians. By learning about their professions, it piqued Dr. Mangonon’s interest and her grandmother, an internal medicine physicia...

Contact Jessica Mangonon, MD, FAAP