Many children are spending more and more time with technology before bed. We suspect that this digital habit is disruptive to the sleep of our little ones - leaving them cranky, tired and moody in the morning. Ever experienced a 7am tantrum? Not the best way to start your Monday morning.
Recent research from the San Diego State University has supported our suspicions about the link between screen time and sleep quality, finding that teens who spent five hours a day online were 50% more likely to not sleep enough than their peers who only spent an hour online each day. The link between the two is most likely because screen time suppresses production of melatonin, the hormone which promotes deep sleep. While screen time is not really recommended for anyone before bed (we're talking to you, night-time Netflix addicts) children are especially sensitive to light because their eyes are still developing, so light from digital media has an even more disruptive effect on their body clock.
Too much screen time can cause a myriad of problems for little sleepers in a number of ways. Firstly, it comes down to timing and content. Ever tried to tear away a teenager from their phone at 10pm? Or your 5 year old from a Peppa Pig binge session before bed time? The addictive nature and use of media by children in itself is disruptive to regular bed time - not to mention the content they're consuming, which is often exciting or provocative (TV, social media) reducing their ability to fall and stay asleep. Finally, the light emissions from electronic devises disrupt the body's natural occurring circadian rhythm, increasing alertness, and as previously mentioned, suppressing melatonin.
There's a definite difference in mood between a child who's had enough sleep and one who hasn't - in fact a survey of 47,000 children has found that children who regularly have the recommended hours of sleep each night reported significantly higher levels of both happiness and feelings of safety.
But how much sleep is enough to keep those sleepy blues at bay? Research from the Australian Government Health Department recommends:
- Infants (birth to one year) 14 to 17 hours (for those aged 0-3 months) and 12 to 16 hours (for those aged 4-11 months) of good quality sleep, including naps during the 24 hour period
- Toddlers (aged 1-2 years) 11 to 14 hours of good quality sleep, including naps during the 24-hour period with consistent sleep and wake-up times
- Pre-schoolers (aged 3-5 years) 10 to 13 hours of good quality sleep, which may include a nap, with consistent sleep and wake-up times
- Kids (aged 6 - 13 years) 9 to 11 hours of sleep - and all of it at night
- Teenagers (13 - 18 years) need at least 9 hours of sleep, all at night
So, how much time should be spent on screens?
The Australian Government recommends children younger than 2 years should not spend any time on screens, and instead should be benefiting from time to move, play and learn. In fact, evidence suggestions watching television in the first 2 years of life may be connected with delays in language development. For children aged 2 to 5 years, screen time should be limited to less than 1 hour per day - and instead should be spending their time talking, singing, reading, and playing.
For older children, Psychology Today suggests starting with 1 hour of entertainment-based screen time, excluding any school-based or learning activity. Remember to always consider the age of your child and the content of their screen time.
To make sure your little ones aren't using screens too much before bed, try implementing a few rules. Try to nurture your child's other non-screen-based interests, like sports, dance, and pets. Also create a "bed time" for devices - a few hours before bed is a good time to switch off. Ban all digital devices from the bedroom, and replace screen time with a reliable sleep ritual that will signal to your child when it's time for shut eye.
Find out more about creating sleep rituals for your child here.