In many households, a common bedtime routine looks like this: after dinner, your child watches a TV show or plays a few games on a laptop or tablet to help “wind down” from a busy day. As the child goes to bed, he or she says she’s not tired and takes an extended time to fall asleep. Parents may assume the child is not tired, so they allow a few more minutes of screen time to further wind down. Does any of this routine sound familiar to you?
If so, it’s very possible that screen time before bed is playing a role in your child’s sleep disruptions. Recent studies have found that the blue light emitted by electronic devices can actually suppress melatonin, a hormone essential to helping our bodies fall and stay asleep. Decreased levels of melatonin are directly linked to delayed sleep onset and multiple night wakings in both children and adults. In addition to decreased levels of melatonin, many games and shows that are geared towards children are very mentally stimulating – that is, even though the body seems at rest, the mind is hard at work following the events in the show or working on problem solving in the game.
Fortunately, there are ways to help settle our brains without the use of electronic devices in the hours leading up to bedtime, minimizing the effects of blue light on sleep. Here are some simple tips to help get started:
•Stop all screen time at least 60 minutes before bed. Instead of having your child wind down with a game on their iPad or a quick TV show, have them color, draw or engage in another calming activity. This will allow them to physically and mentally slow down which will help the transition from play to sleep.
•Eliminate all electronic devices from the bedroom. This tip is true for adults too! Children may be tempted to turn on the TV or play a quick game if they wake in the middle of the night. This is actually counterproductive and will keep the body in an unnaturally alert state. Charge all phones, tablets etc. in another room where the temptation to log on will be much less.
•If screen time is absolutely unavoidable, invest in a screen protector for your laptop, or turn on your phone’s night shift settings. Remember, though, that no device can block 100% of blue light and is not a replacement for simply shutting down before bed.
•Even nightlights emit small amounts of blue light. If you have a nightlight in your child’s room considering using a red bulb instead. Red light has been shown to be least disruptive to the production of melatonin and creates a visually soothing sleeping environment. Keep any night lights as far away from the crib as possible.
By making some simple lifestyle changes, you can help your child (and you!) settle to sleep more easily.