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As a parent of two myself, I know how difficult it can be to limit the amount of screen time for our children. Trying to get things done for work, household chores, driving our kids to activities, or even just trying to get a bit of solitude for a few minutes, are all valid reasons why we allow and sometimes need our children to use a tablet, phone, tv or other digital device. With that in mind, we still need to remain aware of how much screen time our children are getting and the adverse effects that it can have on their sleep, and work hard to establish boundaries so that they are not using these devices excessively.
So, first let’s talk about how screens affect sleep.
1. The blue light that is emitted from the devices suppresses melatonin production, the sleep hormone, and causes irregularities in their circadian rhythm, which is their 24-hour body clock. This can lead to difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.
2. Children can become stimulated by something that they are watching or playing right before bedtime, which can lead to anxiety and/or excitement, proving it hard for them to wind down and fall asleep at night.
3. If there are no boundaries or limitations set, children can become engrossed in a game or video, causing them to stay up past their bedtime. Irregularity in bedtime can cause disruptions in sleep and staying asleep. This can also lead to trouble focusing on school or in activities and can lead to social difficulties.
4. If your child is not getting adequate sleep at night it can lead to more frequent illness, obesity, anxiety, and depression. Sleep has an overall effect on their health and wellbeing.
So, how can you determine the proper amount of screen time for your child?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children aged 2 to 5 years limit their screen time to one hour per day of high-quality programming. For children aged 6 and older, the AAP suggests placing consistent limits on the time spent using media and ensuring that it doesn’t interfere with sleep and other important activities. However, it’s important to note that these guidelines are not set in stone and may vary depending on individual circumstances. It’s crucial for parents to consider their child’s overall well-being, including their sleep patterns, physical activity levels, and social interactions, when determining the appropriate amount of screen time.
There are steps that you can take, as a parent and a role model to help curb the amount of screen time that your child is getting, as well as to make sure that they are taking the steps to get the appropriate amount and quality sleep that they need to succeed in the classroom, in activities and in social situations.
Tips to getting the right amount of sleep
1. Limit screen time. Again, I get it, I am a parent too! There is one big recommendation that I hope that you take from this and use:
Turn off all screens at least an hour before bedtime, preferably two.
2. Create a bedtime routine with your child. Make sure that they follow this each night, as it helps to cue the body and the brain that sleep is coming. Incorporate calming activities such as a warm bath or shower, reading a book or writing in a journal, listening to calming music or meditation into the routine.
3. Create a sleep friendly environment. Your child’s room should be cool and comfortable, dark, and calming. Try room darkening curtains in the room, a sound machine, and a temperature between 18 and 22 C. Try to avoid lights (nightlights, toddler clocks, etc.) in the room that are blue or green and opt for lights that have a red, orange, or soft yellow glow. Remove distractions from the room such as toys for younger children, and TVs for older children.
4. Set a consistent bedtime and wake up time. Children and their bodies thrive on routine and predictability. Children should be getting approximately this many hours of sleep per night:
3 -5 years old: 10 – 13 hours per night
6-12 years old: 9-12 hours per night
13-18 years old: 8 to 10 hours per night
(2023). Retrieved 6 September 2023, from https://publications.aap.org/aapnews/news/6630/AAP-endorses-new-recommendations on-sleep-times
5. Create screen-free areas in your home. Examples could include the bedroom and dining areas. Make sure that you are following these boundaries as well!
6. Encourage other activities. Getting outside for physical play, reading a book, playing music are all great examples of other activities that are healthy for your kids to do in place of using digital devices.
7. Lead by example. Turn your phone and devices off as well an hour before bed. Create a bedtime routine for yourself and go to bed at the same time each night. Try to avoid hitting the snooze button in the morning and get up at the same time every day.
Sleep is an integral part of your child’s health and wellbeing.
Sleep deprivation can lead to challenges at school, socially with friends and family, in extra-curricular activities, and it can lead to more illness. It directly impacts their mental health and wellbeing, as well as their growth and development. So, here at the beginning of the new school year, take some time to talk with your child about the importance of sleep for their growing minds and bodies, the impact that screen time can have, and the boundaries that you are setting for your family. Trust me, when everyone is getting adequate, healthy sleep, you will notice a happier, healthier outlook each day from each family member!
Missy Morrison Charko is a Certified Pediatric Sleep Sense™ Consultant and Founder of Say Yes to the Rest Pediatric Sleep Consulting. A mom of two young children, she helps exhausted parents in BC and across Canada and the USA, through private sleep coaching, get their child sleeping soundly, so they can start to feel like themselves again and their children can get the sleep that they need!
She has had comprehensive sleep training with the Sleep Sense™ Program, has trained to help children with special needs with sleep, and has been a guest on numerous parenting and health/wellness podcasts. In the start of January 2024, she will begin pursuing her Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology (MACP). Believing that every family dynamic is different, she gives the support that suits each family’s unique needs.
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