Sound, restful sleep is incredibly important for growing minds and bodies. Looking at phone and tablet computer screens before bedtime can decrease the quality of your child’s sleep. These small screens are very bright, are held close to the eyes to see the small font, and are highly interactive, which promotes alertness. This is a bad thing at bedtime, much like watching TV, and probably worse!
The first study evaluating effects of smart phones and tablets on sleep in children has just been published. The news isn’t good. In this study, 2,048 fourth- and seventh-graders in the US participated. The researchers examined associations of small screens and TVs in sleep environments and screen time with weekday sleep duration and perceived insufficient rest or sleep in the past week. Children who slept near a small screen (compared with never) reported 20.6 fewer minutes of sleep and had a higher prevalence of perceived insufficient rest or sleep. Children who slept in a room with a TV (compared with no TV) reported 18.0 fewer minutes of sleep. The children and teens reported going to bed an average of 37 minutes later when a small screen was in the room. The bottom line is that sleeping near a small screen, sleeping with a TV in the room, and more screen time results in less sleep and poorer quality sleep.
Why is sleep so important?
- Sleep helps create focus and sustain our ability to concentrate.
- Weekday sleep affects school or work the next day. How and when your child sleeps on weekdays really matters.
- Lack of sleep in children can lead to increased aggression, behavioral problems and mood shifts.
- A 2013 Pediatrics study found that seven year-olds with variable bedtimes had more behavioral difficulties. Consistent healthy sleep habits can make a huge difference in your child’s behavior and school performance.
- Poor sleep can lead to long-term health problems like challenges with an unhealthy weight.
- A 2007 Child Development study found children age 3-12 years of age who slept less tended to be overweight 5 years later.
What Parents Need To Know and Do
- Make sleep a priority and model good behavior. If your children see Mom and Dad using tablets and smart phone in bed, they will want to do the same thing!
- Agree on a reasonable bedtime for your child (8pm) or teen (10pm) and yourself. Prioritize and protect these times as fixed- don’t vary your sleep time.
- Turn phones and tablets (I Pads) off one hour before sleep time! No text messages, phone games or calls are allowed.
- Encourage physical activity during the day — activity and exercise will help with falling asleep.
- No caffeine after 12 pm during the day.
- No big or little screens in the bedroom! Consider having a place in the kitchen where all (including adult) devices are kept at night.