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 binge-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.

“When it comes to our sleep, light regulation is one of the most important things,” said Soda Kuczkowski, sleep health educator with Start With Sleep in Buffalo. “We need natural light in the morning and noon hour because it keeps our circadian rhythm in motion. We have hormonal process it switches on, like serotonin that evokes a happy mood.”

The artificial light of screen devices—particularly in an otherwise dark environment before bedtime—can hamper sleep.

“That can delay melatonin production for three hours,” Kuczkowski said. “That reduces REM sleep, the brain’s waste removal system.”

Reducing light closer to bedtime signals the body that it is time for rest.

Kuczkowski uses blue light blocking glasses for viewing a screen after 7 p.m. This helps filter out the most stimulating type of light.

Sometimes, it is the device’s stimulation that keeps children awake. 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, which 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. Children wonder who has liked their post or responded to their text. 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.

“Children are often more tired and don’t sleep after using devices before bed,” said Christopher Grazen, a chiropractic doctor who holds a bachelor’s degree in exercise science who owns Grazen Chiropractic Lancaster. “I tell my kids to turn the phones off at least half an hour before bed. I still have alarm clocks for the kids so they don’t have a phone in their rooms.”

Instead of engaging with screens before bed, encourage children to wind down with a predictable routine—not screen time stimulation.

“Part of easing into sleep is shutting our brains down,” said Anna Shurmatz, licensed clinical social worker and owner of Shurmatz Counseling in Cheektowaga. “It’s about slowing down. Some people are sensitive to blue light from electronics, which makes some people feel alert. It’s a good idea to create a routine to reduce screen time in the hour between winding down and trying to go to sleep.”

She suggested reading stories with children, talking about the day, discussing tomorrow’s plans and listening to their thoughts.