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How can screen-time impact my child's sleep?

Now I know this can be a sore subject for some. Before I go any further, I want you to know that having screen time does not mean that you are a bad parent. This is meant to be educational and not judgmental in any way. I am fully understanding that some days, it feels impossible to get through the day without help from electronics. We have calls to make, laundry to attend to, Zoom calls to jump on and dinner to make (just to scratch the surface).


It's easier to calm the wild child with a few episodes of Cocomelon while you whip up whatever is on the menu.


Then, after dinner, everyone is tired and cranky and just done with the day. The kitchen needs to be cleaned up, the toys put away and kids ready for bed. So, we just pop on another episode of Cocomelon to make this process go easier.


But, is it? Are shows like this actually helpful? They may be in the moment, but most likely not in the long run.


Screens in general can be disruptive to our body’s natural process of preparing for sleep. The blue light that is emitted from the screen itself, suppresses melatonin- our sleep hormone. This happens even if you have it on nighttime mode or if there is a nighttime screen protector on it.


How do we help this?


Cut off screen time 1-2 hours before bed. This will allow the body to produce melatonin in its natural pattern and leave your child with an optimal level right at the hour of bedtime.


On top of the light being an issue, the content they are viewing, even if it seems educational, is causing a dopamine reaction in their brains. That’s right…. shows like Cocomelon, Daniel Tiger and PJ Masks are triggering an addictive response in your child's brain. This need for high stimulation can lead to difficulty falling asleep and issues with waking early in the morning. Their brain is literally craving another ‘hit’ of their show so when they wake in the earlier morning hours, they don’t think “hey, I’m still kind of tired”. Their brain says, “let’s get up and get that screen fix!”. Then, they wake at 5am but you aren’t ready to get up, so you give them their iPad and go back to sleep for an hour. This causes the early wake up to concrete itself right in place.


If your child is addicted to screen-time, you may notice some or all of the following:

-struggling with regulating moods

-difficulty playing on their own

-constant whining throughout the day

-more than usual meltdowns

-lack of creativity

-and, of course, difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and/or waking very early in the morning


How can we resolve this?

Limit the screens: Avoid early morning screen-time and their overall usage. It’s not realistic for many families to cut it out completely but do your best to offer screen-time on a limited basis. Let go of the idea that they always must be entertained by someone or something we control and allow them to discover ways to play independently. This is an important part of their development.


Get picky with their content: Shows that have a lot happening in one scene are very overstimulating to the child’s brain. This overstimulation is what causes them to zone out completely and become obsessed. Shows with bright colors, lots of animation, flashing graphics (letters, numbers, words, etc) are all things that could be causing more harm than good. These shows are designed to suck your child in so that their attention is captured for long periods of time. In response to this, we say, “This is my kid’s favorite show. He could watch it for hours!” and then we pop that show on whenever we need a few minutes since we know it will for sure occupy them. Thus, causing the problem to grow and making that show lots of money.


What to look for when choosing shows:

Do you remember the show "Arthur"? Yep, it’s still running! It’s simple with muted colors and models kindness through their behavior and how they communicate with each other. That is the type of show you want to look for!

-Natural scenery

-slow paced

-longer time in each scene (camera jumping from one scene to another too fast is a lot on their brain)

-nothing sparkling, jumping or flashing

-muted colors

-diversity

-relatable topics

-handling situations with natural conversations


With a few adjustments and commitment to these changes, you may see a big change in their sleep habits, as well as daily behavior.


This was not meant to make you feel guilty for allowing your child to watch TV. Most of us have screen-time. When it impacts sleep and other areas of life, it’s helpful to take a step back and reevaluate what our children are consuming, at what times they are consuming it and how often. Making small changes can help tremendously. I would recommend starting with cutting TV at bedtime. If you need more help with navigating this process and you aren’t sure how in the world you’ll be able to survive bedtime without screens, schedule your free call with us! We’re here for you!


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