How Screen Time Affects Sleep
It’s difficult to imagine spending an entire day without looking at a screen, even for the generation who grew up without smartphones. People are becoming internet addicts, and it impacts many aspects of health. Prior to the technology boom, recess and breaks at schools involved children talking, laughing, and playing tag. Walk into any school today and you’ll likely see groups of children and teens on their smartphones sharing videos, snapping photos, or scrolling through social media sites. According to a Pew Research study, 95% of teens have a smartphone, while 45% say they are almost always online. Shockingly, almost 1 in 4 children under the age of 5 own a smartphone. Screens are becoming the new norm, coming with potentially as many drawbacks as benefits. Smartphone addiction is very much on the rise.
While technology provides a fun way to interact with others, it is also creating a widespread sleep problem among children and adolescents. Daytime drowsiness and disrupted sleep patterns have increased dramatically in recent years due to increased screen time spent on smartphones, backlit tablets, laptops, as well as televisions. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need an average of 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night while children ages 6-13 need 9 to 10. However, teens who spend time looking at a screen right before bed average only 7 hours of lower quality sleep before bed. One study found younger children lose an average of 10 minutes of sleep for each device or screen they look at often.
Sleep is a crucial component to overall well-being, especially for children under 18. Insufficient amount and quality of sleep is linked to lower grades in school, depression, stunted social skills and numerous other health issues. Technology use and smartphone addiction has also been associated with higher rates of obesity, depression, and anxiety, due in part to its impacts on quality and quantity of sleep in teens and adolescents. There are number of reasons for this impact including screen light impacts on circadian rhythms, arousal from video games and social media use, and reduced physical activity.
Parents likely have a greater impact on their child’s technology use than they might imagine. Of the 2/3 of American parents who have a TV in their bedroom, 2/3 of their children do as well. Among children and teens who have a TV in their room, nearly 40% leave it on through the night. Children who have a television in their bedroom not only sleep less, they are twice as likely to be obese compared to children without a TV.
Screen time has many effects on children and teens. As sleep quality and quantity can impact proper brain development, it’s important that good sleep habits are established and maintained throughout childhood. Parents can educate their kids on the benefits of sleep and encourage them to read a physical book before bed. Creating and enforcing bedtime rules like reducing caffeine and putting away phones before bed can result in an extra hour of sleep for children and teens. Finally, parents can reap their own sleep benefits by modeling good behavior including reducing their screen time and getting rid of bedroom televisions. With good habits, internet addiction and sleep deprivation does not have to be permanent theme in the home.
If you are concerned about your child’s sleep or technology use, you can see a psychiatrist who specializes in helping manage technology addictions or internet addiction.