How Does Screen Time Affect Sleep?

By Andrea Nelson
April 2, 2024
Child using tablet in bed

Sleep. That precious thing most parents don’t get enough of. Sleep can impact everything from brain performance, to mood, to mental and physical health. Our children aren’t getting enough sleep, either, and screens are one of the prime suspects. But how does screen time affect sleep?

To help you get a handle on how screen time may be messing with your child’s shut-eye, here’s a rundown on how screens impact sleep, the negative consequences of too little sleep, and what you can do to help your kid get more Zzzs. 

How much sleep do kids need by age?

You know sleep is important, but just how many hours are enough for your child? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, here is how much sleep to aim for, based on your child’s age:

  • Under a year: 12–16 hours (including naps)
  • Ages 1-2 years: 11–14 hours (including naps)
  • Ages 3-5 years: 10–13 hours (including naps)
  • Age 6-12 years: 9–12 hours
  • Age 13-18 years: 8–10 hours

Negative impacts of poor sleep on kids 

Not getting enough sleep can impact kids in a variety of ways, including: 

Mental health issues

The relationship between mental health and sleep goes both ways. Not only can poor sleep lead to issues like depression and anxiety, but having mental health problems in the first place can also negatively impact sleep.  

Behavioral and emotional problems

Lack of sleep has been shown to cause impulsivity, stress, and aggressive behavior. It can also negatively impact your child’s ability to behave positively in social environments, like impairing their ability to solve conflict. 

Impaired brain function 

Studies have shown that children who get insufficient sleep also have impaired cognitive functions such as decision-making, working memory, and learning.

Impact on physical health

Poor sleep may contribute to growth issues and increased frequency of illnesses. 

Effects of screen time on kids’ sleep

Studies have overwhelmingly shown a negative association between screen use and sleep. Here are some of the ways that screen time may impact your child’s sleep: 

Mental health 

A study reported in the journal Child Psychiatry & Human Development found associations between electronic media use and anxiety and depression in young people, although the direction of causality in their study remains unclear. Given the way mental health and sleep are intertwined, it’s certainly worth taking notice. 

Displacement of time

You can’t sleep while scrolling on TikTok because you lose track of time. Similarly, many kids fail to get to sleep at a decent hour because they’re up too late on their devices. 

Difficulty falling and staying asleep

Screens, including their much-maligned blue light, can not only impact your child’s ability to fall asleep, but they can also negatively impact sleep quality. In addition, studies have shown that use of interactive screen-media, such as video games and mobile devices, can cause your child to wake up in the middle of the night. 

Screen addiction

Screen addiction is a non-diagnostic term that is thrown around perhaps a bit too casually. However, a newly recognized disorder known as Internet Gaming Disorder (ISG) has been linked to sleep problems

How to prevent the negative effects of screens on sleep

For parents worried about their children’s slumber, the good news is there are effective strategies to minimize the negative impact that screens have on your kid’s sleep. 

Some tips: 

  • Shut off notifications close to bedtime: Beyond the obvious problem of notifications waking up your child, even having them on before bed can contribute to sleep issues. Turning off notifications in the hour or so before bedtime will help your child wind down and shut out the day in preparation for climbing under the covers. 
  • Leave phones to charge overnight in another room: The mere presence of a device in the bedroom has been shown to negatively impact sleep, even if it’s not picked up during the night. Here are some ideas for storing your child’s phone at night.
  • Encourage screen-free activities before bed: Reading a book, listening to music, or playing a game are just a few of the many screen-free activities that can help your child wind down before bed. Consider getting the whole family in on the action to set a good example and encourage the new habit. 

The bottom line

Use of screens contributes to poor sleep, which can have negative consequences for your child. By encouraging healthier bedtime habits, you can minimize the impact screens have on your child’s sleep.  

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