Q: [Kids to Teens] Can time in front of a computer, TV or other device affect my kids’ sleep?
A: 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. 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 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.
Sleep is essential for children’s physical, cognitive and emotional development. Sleep protects kids against everything from obesity to the common cold. And school performance is also associated with getting sufficient sleep.
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.
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.
Dr. Jessica Mangonon is a Hoag Medical Group pediatrician in Irvine.