We all need sleep to restore our bodies and minds. This is especially true for kids and teens, who need more sleep as their bodies develop. In an age when time we spend in front of a screen is on the rise, the amount of sleep we get tends to suffer the consequences.
Sleep expert Dr. Heidi Connolly says limiting the use of any electronics—including TV—throughout the day will help kids transition when it’s time to go to bed. And it will help maintain their natural circadian rhythm—their sleep-wake cycle. A recent study in the journal Pediatrics supports the link between fewer hours of screen time and more hours of sleep.
Health Matters: How does the use of electronics, like watching television, affect sleep?
Connolly: Our pineal gland (a small endocrine gland located in the center of the brain) creates melatonin that works to regulate our sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin causes drowsiness and the light exposure from electronics and television screens actually suppresses the ability for this to happen. The amount of melatonin is supposed to peak when you’re going to sleep, but your brain begins to shut it off when exposed to light.
Health Matters: What can parents do to prevent this from happening?
Connolly: There are several ways to help a child’s overall sleep pattern:
- Limit electronics: Screen time--including watching television, being on a cellphone, computer, iPad, etc.--should be limited to less than two hours a day, with no use one to two hours before bedtime. Although use of electronics is being seen with kids younger and younger in age, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding media exposure with children under the age of 2.
- Make a transition: Many kids have a habit of going from being energetic during the day to then sitting in front of the television for the evening. Families should aim to add a board game or other low-level activity into the nightly schedule to help the transition from being active to resting.
- Set a nightly routine: Setting a bedtime routine with your child is important. It allows their body to start to calm down and get ready for bed. Having a consistent schedule with the same elements (having a snack, brushing teeth, reading a book) will signal that to happen.
Heidi Connolly, M.D., is the chief of Pediatric Sleep Medicine at UR Medicine’s Golisano Children’s Hospital. She is an associate professor of Pediatrics and Psychology.