Screen time, sleep and behaviors

Posted November 29, 2016 | From Us, kids

By Lisa Yang, ND

We all know that sleep is an important aspect of our health. Without getting an adequate amount of sleep we can become easily agitated, irritable, tired, and it can lead to a cyclical pattern of poor sleep. This blog post will present recent research showing the relationship between screen time, behavior, sleep quality as well as talk about steps you can take to make screen time guidelines and tips for a good night’s rest.

The research:

A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics showed sleeping near a small screen, with a television in the room and more screen time were all associated with shorter sleep durations. Specifically, children who slept near a small screen reported on average 20 fewer minutes of sleep per day than those who never slept near a small screen. (1)

There have also been brain imaging studies that have shown less efficient information processing ability, reduced impulse inhibition, and poor task performance in individuals with excess screen time.  Other studies have found physiological change in the brain’s white matter and atrophy of grey matter in adolescents with internet/gaming addiction. One of the main areas affected by this form of addiction is the frontal lobe which governs executive function. (2)

New screen time guidelines:

With all of these new studies and findings, the American Academy of Pediatrics have also recently revised their screen time recommendations:

  • Children less than 18 months- avoid screen time all together
  • Children between 18-24 months – for parents who want to introduce media, should choose high quality programming and to watch with their children
  • Children ages 2 to 5 years old- limit screen time to 1 hour per day of high quality programs
  • Children ages 6 and older- place limits on media and the types of media

Steps to take:

To avoid the possible negative repercussions of screen time, it is important to set up guidelines to limit access. The AAP recommends the Family Media Use Plan tool, launched by (3) It is a easy tool to help families set up rules with screen time. Guidelines for screen free zones and times, device curfews, how to balance online and off-line time, charging devices outside of the bedroom, and also discussing privacy settings are all recommended. For the Family Media Plan to be successful, it is important for everyone honor it.

Another recommendation would be to make screen time something that can be earned through good behavior, following directions, finishing chores and homework. A maximum amount of minutes that can be earned should also be established. This model allows good behavior to be rewarded, which is great positive feedback for many children and adolescents.

When it comes to bedtime, starting a routine is important.

  • boy-and-screenPutting a curfew for media devices at least 1 hour before bed reduces any stimulating effects of shows and games. This allows the brain and your child to unwind and get ready for sleep.
  • Charging devices outside of the bedroom is also recommended to reduce light that is emitted from devices that may promote wakefulness. Keeping the bedroom pitch dark will promote melatonin release to help your child fall asleep
  • Use an alarm clock rather than a smartphone or tablet as wakeup device

Making changes or sticking with a Family Media Plan may be a difficult step for many families, but knowing that these steps can improve sleep quality and reduce any negative consequences of excess screen time makes it worthwhile.





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