Are you able to fall asleep the minute your head hits the pillow? If yes, then some of us envy you. Does this sound familiar? You get into bed at 10 and decide to check in with your social media. You are scrolling, scrolling and bam! You wake up because the phone falls on your face, you glance at the clock and realize you dozed off while you were deep into your friend’s, sister’s, husband’s Instagram page. This scenario resonates for some of us and could be your child’s reality. How many times have your children gone to bed and when you check on them two hours later you notice they are still wide awake scrambling to put away their iPad. As a teacher, I noticed that many students in my class were constantly yawning and falling asleep as a result of gaming or social media on their iPads. Technology is only becoming more and more predominant in your child’s life so it is important to educate yourself on the effects screen time has on your child’s mental well-being and performance in school.
Electronic devices that children use at night emit light that stimulates certain parts of your brain to increase alertness and suppress a hormone called melatonin. The lack of melatonin means your brain is more alert and this causes disruptions in your body’s ability to experience quality sleep and move into the deep sleep stage (Mindell & Owen, 2003). Deep sleep is important for your child’s learning and consequent academic performance (Baranaski, 2007). Deep sleep is known as the regenerative stage of sleep. During this stage of sleep your child’s brain engages in processing information learned during the day into the long term memory by creating new neural connections and pathways (Fishbein, 1971). This is why students demonstrate better performance in school when they have better quality sleep (Mindell & Owen, 2003).
You can establish screen time boundaries by engaging your children in a new bedtime routine. Of course creating new habits is not easy – so take small steps. For instance, if your children fall asleep playing games on their iPads, give them ten minutes before you take it away. Gradually reduce the time to five minutes and slowly remove it and replace it with another activity such as reading a book, meditating, coloring, puzzles, or playing with sensory items such as play dough. Instead of falling asleep listening to music on their iPods they can listen to music on a good old stereo. The goal is to try to fill that time in with a calming, relaxing activity that your child can look forward to. Prior to introducing these changes talk to them. Let them know that you will be changing expectations around bedtime and to start thinking about what they would like to do instead. They might experience anxiety around this change so make sure to validate their apprehensions. Parents need to be good role models so this means you might need to disconnect from social media and also engage in these types of activities before bed. If you are someone who cannot resist when the phone is right next to you charging overnight, then try to leave your phone on charge somewhere else in the house. Perhaps everyone in your house disconnects and leaves phones, iPads and other smart devices in a specific spot every night.
Baranski, J. (2007). Fatigue, sleep loss, and confidence in judgment. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 13(4), 182-196.
Fishbein W. (1971). Disruptive effects of rapid eye movement sleep deprivation on long-term memory. Physiobiology &
Behaviour, 6(4): 279–282.
Mindell JA, Owen J. (2003). A clinical guide to pediatric sleep diagnosis and management of sleep problems in children and
adolescents. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.