Screen time before bed is stealing hours of sleep from our children

Too many hours watching “VeggieTales” last night?
Too many hours watching “VeggieTales” last night?
Image: Reuters/Marcus Donner
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Your kids will kick and scream and hate you for it, but science says it’s best to take away screens from children in the hours leading up to bedtime.

A team out of the University of Colorado, Boulder conducted a review of all the available academic literature on how screens are robbing our children of sleep. “Of more than five dozen studies looking at youths ages 5 to 17 from around the world, 90% have found that more screen time is associated with delayed bedtimes, fewer hours of sleep, and poorer sleep quality,” according to a statement released with their findings.

The team’s review, published in this month’s issue of the journal Pediatrics, found three main screen-related reasons that children are robbed of sleep:

  1. The content is too stimulating, especially in the case of mobile and computer games.
  2. The wavelength and quality of the light eminating from the devices has a physical effect on circadian rhythms and sleep physiology, such as drastically lowering the body’s level of melatonin, a hormone known to be involved in telling our bodies it’s time for sleep.
  3. Since screens are smaller than ever—and that more than 75% of youths have some kind of screen in their bedroom—it’s incredibly easy for them to sneak in an episode of VeggieTales when they should be getting a good night’s rest.

Because of these factors, children are simply not getting enough shut-eye. The National Sleep Foundation’s 2014 “Sleep in America Poll” (pdf) found that over 30% of elementary-school children and well over 50% of both middle and high schoolers don’t get the recommended nightly allowance. And this is a big problem. As the authors point out, “Healthy sleep patterns in childhood and adolescence are associated with lower obesity risk, better psychological well-being, improved cognitive functioning, and lower risk-taking behaviors.”

To curb this effect, the authors recommend that we remove all electronic media from our children’s bedrooms, including TVs and mobile phones, and establish firm bedtime routines. It’s also imperative to educate children that sleep is important and necessary—not just an inconvenient eight hours that you can’t be watching Netflix.