This blog post is brought to you by Dr Kristy Goodwin, a children’s technology and development expert, author and mum. In the Parent Seminars I deliver, I suggest that parents establish a ‘digital curfew’ so that technology doesn’t interfere with kids’ sleep.
Ideally, 90 minutes before your child sleeps is recommended to be screen-free, but even 30 or 60-minutes screen-free before bed will make a difference to kids’ sleep. There are two prime reasons for avoiding screens before sleep, especially tablets, mobile devices and handheld gaming devices-
// Screens (particularly touchscreens which are usually interactive) can have an arousal effect on the brain. Playing games or engaging in interactive activities, which is often the case with these devices can excite kids. The rapid-fire, fast-paced screen action can hyper-arouse the brain, which can in turn delay the onset of sleep; and
// Most tablet and mobile devices have light-emitting diodes that give off blue wavelength light. The blue light hampers the body’s production of melatonin (which kids and teens need to produce to help them fall asleep easily), making kids alert when they should feel sleepy, meaning it can take them longer to fall asleep.
You can find our more here about kids and screens and sleep.
However, as a mum I understand that sometimes a digital cut-off time before bed isn’t attainable. I hear from many (worried) parents after my seminars, that sometimes their child likes using technology before they go to sleep. It helps them to relax and calm down and they dread the thought of having complete completely screen-free before bedtime is a little overwhelming, so they’re after some screenless and/or safe activities for before bed.
So what are some ‘screen-free’ technology experiences that aren’t going to impede our kids’ sleep? If your child wants to use technology before sleep are some choices better than others? Yes!
What can they do with digital devices without me having to worry that sleep will be compromised? I’m a huge advocate of helping parents ditch their techno-guilt… because let’s face it we have enough to fret and feel guilty about already.
‘Safe’ technology experiences before bed
Read eBooks or use an e-reader
(e.g. Kindle)- reading a book on a digital device is unlikely to over-excite kids and is very similar to reading a ‘real’ book’. Most eReaders don’t emit blue light so the risks to kids’ sleep are minimal.
Tech tips- A couple of things to be mindful of-
// Avoid using animated book apps with all the bells-and-whistles before bed, as these are typically very interactive and have lots of features to captivate your child’s attention and excite them (and as we all know, this is not ideal before bed).
// If reading an eBook on a regular tablet device (i.e. not on an e-reader) remember they emit blue light which can impair the production of melatonin (the darkness hormone). So if your child isn’t using an e-reader before bed to read a book, make sure your child dims the brightness on the device (as this will reduce the amount of blue light that hits their retina), or uses an ‘evening’ function if available on the device (for example, Apple devices have ‘night shift’ mode and ‘night mode’ in Android devices).
// If possible, encourage them to read on a smaller screen. For example, it would be better to read on an iPhone, as opposed to a 9-inch iPad as it reduces the amount of light, especially short-wavelength (blue) light that reaches the retina.
Listen to music
Listening to music (and no, not You Tube music clips on the iPad) can be a great way to use technology to help kids calm down before bed. If your child likes to listen to music before bed, encourage them to listen to soft, slow and familiar music to aid in the onset of sleep (loud, fast or unfamiliar music can arouse your child). Tech tips
//Create playlists of music that your child likes to listen to before bed, so you know what they’re listening to is appropriate and remove the device from their bedroom once they’re asleep (keeping devices out of kids’ and teens’ bedrooms is strongly advised).
Listen to audiobooks
Listening to books via audiobook recordings can be a great way to use screens before bed (without having to fret about the impact on kids’ sleep). Audible have a great collection of audiobooks for kids, teens and adults. Birde also have a great range of audiobooks (plus a host of other educational and entertainment content for kids aged 0-5 years). Birde provide young children with a safe, educational way to enjoy listening to music, watch their favourite videos or listen to an audio book.
Listen to podcasts
A great ‘screen-free’ alternative at night is for kids to listen to podcasts. Common Sense Media have some great kid-friendly recommendations here.
Listen to guided meditations
Smiling Mind have a great app that works on iOS and Android devices that has a collection of guided meditations that are a great way for kids to unwind at the end of the day. I also love Maggie Dent’s Safe n Sound and Sleepy Time audios (I personally use these with my boys sometimes before bed).
Get more natural sunlight in the day
Yes, greentime! Time outdoors in nature is such a simple strategy that can counteract some of the negative impacts of screens! The more natural sunlight that kids get in the daytime, the better their body is able to desensitise itself to blue light’s effects at bedtime. So even if your kids do use screens at night, they’re not as likely to be adversely impacted by this exposure. Yet another reason, that we need to get kids outside!
I also understand that many families use TV as part of their night time routine. It’s definitely a much better choice than more interactive screens like tablets, smartphones and gaming consoles. If your child watches TV before bed, make sure that the content is slow-paced (so as night to hyper-stimulate them) and that it isn’t scary (as this can induce night terrors).
As I’ve previously explained, digital devices before sleep or nap time can impede the quality and quantity of kids’ and teens’ sleep. Whilst a complete digital sunset before bed might seem unattainable for some families, doing a technology swap and making sure kids are using screens in healthy ways is a better alternative. Dr Kristy delivers engaging parent seminars where she provides parents with research-based information about raising kids in a digital world. Photo by Ludovic Toinel on Unsplash