Before I had my daughter, I always told myself I wouldn’t be the mom who gave their child their phone to buy some time over dinner. Or the mom who wouldn’t use the television as a temporary babysitter while I got some things done around the house. I said I wouldn’t do a lot of things as a parent, and while I stayed true to most of my promises, I’m guilty on this one. However, the new talk about how screen time use is affecting our children’s health has got me making those promises again.
While technological use by people of all ages is more apparent now than ever, new guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics specifically discusses how the use of digital media is affecting our children’s health. Through a press release issued in October, the AAP recommended limited use of digital exposure for children of all ages. Specifically, they recommend no more than two hours of screen time for children over the age of two; although, some argue this amount is even excessive. For children under 18 months, the AAP says eliminating all screen time is imperative for healthy brain development and for child-parent connections. For children over the age of 6, it’s up to parents to set their own limits on screen time use.
As a mother and as a pediatric sleep consultant, I know first hand how screen time use affects our little ones, particularly their sleep. Let’s break this down in scientific terms. Screen time directly before bed delays the circadian rhythm, (our body’s internal clock) and suppresses the release of melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone). Not only does this suppression of melatonin keep you from falling asleep, but it keeps you from staying asleep. Furthermore, the use of blue light devices reduces the amount of REM sleep, which is responsible for stimulating the areas of your brain that are essential for learning and making or retaining memories. This then creates increased tiredness in the morning. To conclude, the overuse of screen time before bed can result in overtiredness and significant sleep debt over time.
We’re all guilty of this kind of indulgence, and sometimes there’s nothing better than binge-watching your favorite TV show after a long day of work. Or catching up on the latest happenings on our social media news feed. Not to mention, technology has proven to have many scholastic benefits when it comes to young children. But as parents, it’s important that we at least try to set a good example for our children in order to promote healthy sleep habits. Sleep is so essential to your child’s well-being. It helps them concentrate in school, retain information and solve problems. Sleep helps their muscles, skin and bones grow so that they can stay healthy and fight sickness. Ensuring that your child gets an adequate amount of rest each day should be a priority.
Digital media devices should not be offered at least 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime. Here are some fun alternative ways your little one can wind down before bed:
- Reading a good old-fashioned book! Or even the Kindle Paperwhite– it doesn’t produce the same blue light that a smartphone or tablet does.
- Audio books that tell stories
- Coloring book
- Board games and puzzles
- Family yoga
- Kiss favorite toys good night
- Reflect on the day/talk about tomorrow
- For older children- writing in a journal
For help with your child’s sleep struggles, contact me!