Is Screen Time Interfering with your Child’s Dream Time?

This week our contributing writer Jillian Dowling talks about how to make sure your child’s sleep is not influenced by electronic devices.

There really is no denying the fact that screen time in the evening is having an extremely negative effect on our children’s sleep.  If screen time is interfering with dream time in your house, it is time to make some changes!

Television, computers, video games, smart phones and tablets are the leading cause of child sleep issues across the world. It has become an epidemic and the solution is within our control as parents.

It may seem harmless to have some television or play a few video games between dinner and bedtime. Sometimes that is the only down time we get with our kids. I get it. Life is busy and it’s hard to get all of the things we want to get done in a day. And often by 7:30 we just want to sit and relax. How we spend that time relaxing, however, is having a profound effect on the health of our children.

The screens your kids are looking at before bed are emitting a blue light that is sending a message to their brains that it isn’t time to go to sleep. It is stopping the release of melatonin, the hormone that sets off the series of events that happen in our bodies to prepare for sleep.

This is causing children to not feel sleepy at bedtime and make their bedtimes much later. Bedtime routines for children should be no longer than 30 minutes but for a child who has been watching television or playing on their tablet right before bed, it will take much longer because they simply don’t feel ready for sleep.

This routine on a nightly basis can lead to circadian rhythm issues which can lead to your child waking during the night and not being able to go back to sleep or waking way too early in the morning. It more typically means that your child is really going to struggle to get out of bed in the morning, which will lead to a whole new string of issues.

All of these gadgets do have a place in your child’s life. My kids have tablets and gaming systems ( they are still too young for phones) and we don’t put many rules around that. Our main rule that we rarely stray from, however, is that our kids don’t use any of them after dinner.

It is recommended that children over 2 have no more than 2 hours of television each day. With school, homework, after school activities and sports, I can’t think of a way to fit that much screen time in. Unless, of course, you are sacrificing time in bed.

You can check my suggestions for how much sleep your child needs here, then do the math. There isn’t a lot of time for all of those devices.

If dinner is finished by 6:00 and your child has a bed time of 8:00, they should start getting ready for bed at 7:30.  That doesn’t leave a lot of time between after dinner and  going to bed. Here are my suggestions for skipping the screen time and choosing some activities that will actually help your child go to sleep more easily.

  1. Be a good role model. Don’t tell your children that they can’t have screen time but then check your phone a thousand times. They are watching you and following your lead.
  2. Play board games. It sounds old fashioned but honestly, kids love them and it is a great way to bond with your family. For smaller kids I love Uno or matching games. Older kids can play Monopoly or more complex card games.
  3. Have a good bedtime routine. It should last no longer than 30 minutes. This could include a bath/shower, brushing teeth, some reading time and then lights out!
  4. Have your kids “check” their devices for the night. Do not let them take them to their rooms when they go to bed. Make it a part of your nightly ritual.