How Screen Time Affects the Quality of Your Family's Sleep

For most of us, winding down before bedtime includes watching our favorite show, catching up on the news from the day, answering messages and emails, or scrolling through social media. Even though experts warn us that looking at screens before bedtime can affect sleep quality, we continue to do so. After all, this little ritual helps us relax, so it can’t be that bad, right?

The truth is that screens emit blue light that can disrupt your sleep and even cause insomnia in severe cases. And it’s particularly bad for teenagers and kids who need more rest for proper growth and development.

So, let’s see how blue light affects our brains, why you should ditch electronics from your bedroom, and how to help your kids reduce screen time for better sleep.

The Connection Between Screen Time and Sleep Quality

Our sleep patterns follow a sleep-wake cycle controlled by our circadian rhythm. This internal clock follows a 24-hour cycle and dictates vital processes in our body, like sleep, alertness, appetite, body temperature, etc.

So how does our internal clock know what time it is? It takes cues from sunlight! When it’s bright outside, our body produces cortisol and other hormones that help us stay alert. In contrast, when it becomes dark, our body produces melatonin, which is a hormone that helps us relax and sleep.

Screens emit short-wavelength light, also known as blue light, with similar properties to sunlight. Looking at screens can trick our brains into thinking it’s daytime, making us more alert and preventing us from falling asleep. As a result, it becomes harder to fall asleep, and the quality of our sleep also takes a huge hit.

And it’s not just bedtime electronic use that’s bad for your nightly rest. Studies show that looking at screens for too long during the day can affect the quality of your sleep. That’s why you need to be particularly mindful of how much time you spend in front of a screen. We know that this can be truly difficult because most of us spend a large portion of the day looking at screens at work, and then we come home and play our favorite show to unwind. However, limiting screen time can improve your sleep and help you spend better-quality time with your family.

The Effect of Blue Light on Our Brains: Why Using Electronics Before Bedtime Disrupts Sleep Quality

Blue light refers to a specific part of the visible light spectrum with short wavelengths and high energy. Natural blue light comes from the sun and helps regular our circadian rhythms and sleep-wake cycle. However, electronic devices like smartphones, tablets, TVs, laptops, and gaming consoles emit artificial blue light.

Unfortunately, your brain cannot distinguish between natural and artificial blue light, so the moment your eyes detect it, they send a signal to the brain that it’s daytime. Your brain then controls the levels of hormones and other chemical signals, preventing melatonin production.

A lack of melatonin prevents you from feeling sleepy, making it harder to fall asleep. A 2022 study found that using screens for more than two hours in the evening or at night increased the risk of insomnia, impaired sleep quality, and daytime function. That means that if you stay on your phone for too long, there is a higher chance you will feel irritated, sleepy, and fatigued the next day.

Researchers even suspect that a lack of melatonin contributes to the onset of certain neurodegeneration disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.

When you play a video game, scroll social media, or watch your favorite show, it’s not just blue light that prevents you from falling asleep. Sounds also stimulate your brain, putting you in a state of cognitive alertness. Unfortunately, that’s not very conducive to sleep.

Screens and Children’s Sleep

One of the biggest challenges of raising kids in today’s world is getting them to turn away from the screens and live in the present moment. It often feels like a constant battle for attention, and unfortunately, screens are a powerful adversary.

We understand it – kids don’t want to miss out on the latest video game craze or a virtual chat session that everyone else seems to be a part of. After all, these activities are vital for their sense of belonging. The fear of missing out (FOMO) on digital interactions or group activities is strong, which is why their screen times often extend long into the night.

However, proper sleep is vital for children’s growth and development. So, too much screen time can seriously affect their sleep-wake cycle and other aspects of their well-being. In fact, research has concluded that sleep loss in children and teenagers could lead to an increased risk of childhood obesity, impaired cognitive functioning, worse academic performance, and disrupted psychological well-being.

That’s why we need to develop strategies for managing our kid’s screen time and offering them healthier alternatives.

How to Manage Your Kids’ Screen Time

Here are some tips to help you manage your kids’ screen time and establish a healthy balance between their digital habits and restful sleep:

1. Set a Screen Curfew

Experts recommend avoiding using screens at least one hour before bedtime. So, establish a screen curfew for your kids, and allow their brains to unwind from digital stimulation. That will help them transition to sleep more easily.

2. Set Boundaries

We mentioned that looking at screens for too long during the day can disrupt sleep. That’s why you should establish rules for screen time, both during the day and in the evening. According to experts, using screens for more than three hours a day during leisure time is considered extensive. In addition, they warn not to use screens for more than two hours in the evening, as it can also disrupt sleep.

Once you establish the boundaries, communicate them clearly to your children and help them understand the importance of adhering to them.

3. Be a Role Model

If you’re always on your phone or looking at screens, the chances are that your kids are going to follow your lead. After all, our little ones are like sponges that soak up our behaviors. That’s why you need to set a good example for them and demonstrate a healthy relationship with screens. You need to show them you are serious about screen time rules. So, ditch the electronics before bed and lead by example.

4. Create a Tech-Free Bedroom Environment

Your bedrooms should be designated as a screen-free zone, at least in the evening. Instead, encourage your kids to unwind with activities that promote relaxation.

5. Encourage Them to Spend Time Outdoors

Exposure to natural light helps regulate the circadian rhythm, reinforcing a healthy sleep-wake cycle. That’s why daily outdoor activities can help your kids sleep better.

6. Engage in Relaxing Bedtime Activities

Instead of using screens, encourage your children to develop a bedtime routine with alternative activities that promote relaxation. That may include reading books, drawing, journaling, light stretching, playing board games, listening to soothing music, or engaging in a hobby.

Improving Sleep Hygiene

Improving sleep hygiene is a vital step towards better sleep in your household. Here’s what you can do to ensure your family gets the rest they deserve:

  1. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule
  2. Follow a relaxing bedtime routine
  3. Limit evening screen exposure
  4. Make your bedroom comfortable
  5. Ban electronics from your bedroom
  6. Get regular exercise
  7. Find a way to manage stress and anxiety
  8. Avoid napping late in the day
  9. Be mindful of what you eat and drink
  10. Avoid heavy meals before bedtime
  11. Spend time in the sun during the day

Remember that establishing good sleep hygiene takes time, so don’t feel frustrated if you can’t implement all these things at once. Keep improving, and your sleep quality and well-being will improve over time.