Screen Time at Bedtime Is Keeping Kids Awake

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Letting your child fall asleep to their favorite show may be the easiest way to get them to bed, but it could also be the worst way.

A report published in The Journal of American Medical Association said screen time, such as the use of smartphones and tablets, before bed is suggested to cause poor sleep and daytime drowsiness.

“Sleep is crucial to the development of physically and psychologically healthy children. Sleep disturbance in childhood is known to lead to adverse physical and mental health consequences,” the study said. “Short- and long-term detrimental health outcomes include poor diet, sedentary behavior, obesity, reduced immunity, stunted growth, mental health issues and substance abuse.”

The report gathered information from 20 different studies, with data on a total of 125,198 children ages six to 18. Those who had access to a screen device at bedtime at least three times a week, were 88 percent more likely to have trouble getting enough sleep. The adequate amount of sleep was defined as at least 10 hours a night for children and nine for adolescents.

The study’s lead author, Ben Carter, a senior lecturer in biostatistics at King’s College in London, said the studies suggest the same thing.

“The most important point is that we need a community wide strategy to empower parents so that it becomes an acceptable routine to remove devices prior to bedtime,” he said.

Children were also evaluated to have a 53 percent increased risk of poor sleep quality and more than double the risk for daytime tiredness. Just having a device in the room could increase the risk for sleep issues.

The study said that 75 percent of 17- and 18-year-olds self-report insufficient sleep, consistent with other countries. It cited The American Academy of Pediatrics as a source for sleep behavior recommendations.

“Despite its importance to health, insufficient sleep and resultant daytime sleepiness are prevalent among the pediatric population and increase throughout adolescence,” the study said. “The American Academy of Pediatrics has highlighted factors, including electronic media device use, early school start times, and increase in caffeine consumption, that contribute substantially to this trend of insufficient and deteriorating sleep in the pediatric population.”

The Academy recently updated its recommendations in relation to pediatric screen time. The recommendations are to balance screen time with other activities, while making sure a child receives adequate sleep and exercise.

Christopher Ferguson, professor of psychology and department chair at Stetson University in Florida, said the AAP’s recommendations for younger children are where limits persist in an article to The Huffington Post.

“The AAP recommends avoiding screens prior to 18 months, then gradually introducing media with parental interaction,” Ferguson said. “Only one hour of screens a day is suggested until age five.”

Ferguson said he believes that the AAP recommendations rely on outdated studies and that the age and time restrictions aren’t supported by clear evidence.

“Ultimately, there probably is no “one size fits all” guideline for what’s best for individual children and their families,” he said.

Tori Linville

Tori Linville is a freelance writer and editor from Clarksville, Tennessee. When she isn’t writing or teaching, she’s faithfully watching her alma mater, the University of Alabama, dominate the football field.