Screen time and its impact on healthy sleeping habits

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Screen time and its impact on healthy sleeping habits

Squaggle_kids asleep at desks_image screen time

Healthy sleep habits

Growing up in the digital age exposes our kids to infinite opportunities to learn. One disadvantage is that screen time seems to be taking precedence and less time is being spent on the things that we as parents think are worthwhile; such as those essential daily activities like sleep, active play and family time.

So what constitutes healthy sleep habits?

  • A regular bedtime. According to the Sleep Health Foundation of Australia, “The body has an internal clock and hormones that control sleepiness and wakefulness. This clock works best if there is a regular sleep routine.”[i]
  • Relaxing for an hour before bed. Kids enjoy a predictable evening routine such as a warm bath, reading a bedtime story, meditations or listening to relaxing music.
  • Unplugging from technology! The blue light emitting from computers stimulates kids brains and reduces evening levels of the sleep producing hormone melatonin. Kids should avoid using devices up to 2 hours before bed.
  • Avoiding games that “wind” kids up or rough play at least an hour before bed.
  • Get out in the sun! “Being out in the sun during the day will improve sleep at night. This will help with your body clock and the melatonin levels in the body.”[ii]
  • A distraction free bedroom. Kids bedrooms should be a quiet place for them to relax and sleep in. No TV’s, computers or devices should be in this space to encourage optimal sleep.

Now that we know what constitutes healthy sleep habits, let’s take a look at what Dr Sarah Loughran, a sleep researcher at the University of Wollongong says about how screen time affects our kid’s sleep.

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Screen time

She reports too much screen time can impact of our kids sleep habits in three main ways:

  • Timing – the use of electronic media can lead to delays in children’s bedtimes, resulting in less time being available for sleep.
  • Content – engaging the brain with exciting or provocative information before bed may trigger emotional and hormonal responses (like adrenalin), which can reduce the ability to fall and stay asleep.
  • Light emissions – light from electronic devices can disrupt the body’s natural occurring circadian rhythm, increasing alertness and suppressing the release of the hormone melatonin, which is important for regulating our sleep-wake cycle.[iii]

From personal experience we know that excessive screen time can make kids cranky, aggressive, disagreeable and unwilling to participate in activities that we as parents value, but they view as a waste of time. It was only last night that I interrupted my 11 year old daughter with my iPad in her bedroom, when she was supposed to be asleep. At the tender age of 11 she is supposed to get on average of 9-10 hours of quality sleep a night to be able to perform at her best the following day. Considering it was 11pm and she was still staring into the “blue light” she was evidently going to suffer the next day, as was I!

Up until now we have been encouraged to monitor screen time close to bed, but a recent study conducted in Norway has provided evidence that directly links screen use with poor sleep habits.

Author Mari Hysing of Uni Research Health in Bergen, Norway analysed survey responses from almost 10,000 teens, ages 16 to 19, in Western Norway. The conclusions drawn from this study confirmed:

  • Using any device in the hour before bed was associated with a 13 to 52% increase in the likelihood of needing more than 60 minutes to fall asleep
  • More than four daytime hours of screen time was associated with a similar increase in risk of “sleep latency,” or taking a long time to fall asleep.
  • Screen time was also linked to an increased risk of a sleep deficit of at least two hours, meaning the kids said they needed two more hours of sleep than they were actually getting.[iv]

Authors also concluded that screen time greater than the “recommended two hours per day was linked with poor school performance, emotional disturbances, and in some cases suicidal ideation.”[v]

As with most things in life we need to create and encourage balance in our kids’ lives. The benefits of technology are undeniable, but the negative impacts can no longer be swept under the carpet and ignored. As parents we should be confident in taking a stand in an attempt to protect our kids and allow them to grow and develop and meet their full potential.

Many parents don’t know how much screen time is too much, or that there are department of health guidelines outlining just that. In a nutshell this is what they recommend how much screen time our kids should be exposed to:

Children < 2yrs Children 2-5yrs Children 5-12yrs
Screen time No time spent watching TV or any other electronic media Less than 1hr a day watching TV or using any other electronic media Limit use of electronic media for entertainment to no more than 2hrs a day
Sedentary time Not more than 1hr at a time with the exception of sleeping Not more than 1hr at a time with the exception of sleeping Break up long periods of sitting as often as possible
Active time Physical activity should be encouraged from birth Physical activity should be encouraged every day for at least 3 hrs, spread throughout the day At least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity every day

We obviously can’t go back to living in the dark ages, where the brightest thing our kids may have stared at was the sun, BUT we can put in place sensible restrictions that allow our kids to co-exist with, and utilise technology to its fullest potential, whilst protecting them and encouraging them to practice restraint.

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[i] Good Sleep Habits. 2015. Good Sleep Habits. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25 November 2015]
[ii] Good Sleep Habits. 2015. Good Sleep Habits. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25 November 2015]
[iii] How screen time affects rest | 2015. How screen time affects rest | [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25 November 2015].
[iv]  Screen time may damage teens’ sleep | Reuters . 2015. Screen time may damage teens’ sleep | Reuters . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25 November 2015].
[v] Screen time may damage teens’ sleep | Reuters . 2015. Screen time may damage teens’ sleep | Reuters . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25 November 2015].

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