Sleep becomes a big part of your life when you are a parent. Or rather trying to get your children to sleep (and stay asleep) becomes a big part of your life. It has such an impact on their behaviour, health and ability to learn that it’s really important that we help them get as much sleep as they can. However, once you mastered the newborn sleep challenges, their development means that unfortunately often new bedtime challenges will arise! We have had struggles with three out of our four children when it comes to sleep! One way we thought we were helping our eldest to wind down when they were younger was to watch a TV programme before bed! But the data shows that it didn’t help them to go to sleep or have good sleep. So we decided to reduce screen time at bedtime and here are the ways we did it!

Why does screen time before bed have a negative impact on sleep?

Many studies have show that screen time – watching television or using computers, mobile phones and other electronic mobile devices – in the hours before bedtime may be having a large and negative impact on children’s sleep:

Screen time can intrude on time for sleep

A 2006 survey showed that nearly all adolescents have at least one electronic device in their bedroom. The temptation to use these devices can then lead to delays in the time that children and adolescents go to bed and, consequently, shorter sleep overall.

Bright Lights and Alertness

It has also been suggested that longer screen times may be affecting sleep by reducing the time spent doing other activities – such as exercise – that may be beneficial for sleep and sleep regulation.

The content, or what we are actually engaging with on the screen, can be detrimental to sleep. For example, exciting video games, or television shows can engage the brain and lead to the release of hormones such as adrenaline. This can in turn make it more difficult to fall asleep or maintain sleep.

Many of the devices emit bright light. Exposure to these light emissions in the important evening hours before sleep can increase alertness. Bright light at night can also disrupt the body’s naturally occurring daily rhythms by suppressing the release of the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is important for maintaining and regulating our sleep-wake cycle.

So how do we reduce screen time during the bedtime routine?

It is becoming increasingly clear that limiting screen time in the period leading up to bedtime is beneficial for sleep. Start by removing electronic devices from the bedroom – this provides a good sleep environment and promotes good sleep practices. It is recommended to avoid screen time an hour before bed. Take a look at these 5 ways to reduce screen time at bedtime for children:

Wear them out

Regular exercise makes it easier to fall asleep and contributes to sounder sleep. Try aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity but not too close to bedtime. The easiest week of bedtimes is our skiing week – a day of fresh air skiing and a swim in the pool means my two are asleep almost before I’ve finished reading them a story! Even by heading out for a quick walk or play in the garden after dinner can help set their body clock’s and help them doze off by themselves easier. Remember there is no such thing as bad weather….take a look at our waterproofs and wellies to keep them dry.

Bath time fun and cuddles

A long bubble bath (ok much shorter now we have children!) is a great way to destress and relax. It’s the same for children – the number of times ours have been in a grumpy mood but the bath then provides them with a mood buster and relaxes them before bed. Add in some bath toys for some creative, educational play and a hooded towel to enjoy warm cuddles, and it’s a great screen free bedtime activity.

Bedtime story

There is no better time to snuggle up with a good book and your child than at bedtime! Here are four reasons why bedtime reading is so important for your child:

  1. It’s relaxing, calming and stress-free activity to do.
  2. It nurtures their imagination. Ask them what happens next – it’s interesting to hear their thoughts!
  3. It helps with development.
  4. It is special attention time. There is so much going on in our lives that it’s lovely to have some time to cuddle up with your child in peace and quiet. Even if you’re older child is a confident reader, they will still love having a book read to them – Gill is currently reading Harry Potter and loving them as much as Amy! Samuel loves the solar system and so Goodnight Starry is his favourite bedtime story
Family time

With often such hectic schedules and long working days, it can be hard to fit in some quality time. But it’s worth making sure you have some relaxed time together rather than a series of rushed tasks. We enjoy on a Sunday evening after tea, to have a family game before we start the bathtime routine. When we go away on family breaks, we take our colour in tablecloth. We all sit there quietly talking after dinner whilst colouring away – it’s a relaxing activity for everyone!

Mindfulness

According to a recent study, when students wrote in a gratitude journal for 15 minutes every night, they worried less and slept longer and better. In a study that examined people’s brain activity during thoughts of gratitude, researchers found it increased activity in the part of the brain that creates dopamineDopamine helps regulate a person’s sleep and wakefulness and it also influences the brain’s electrical activity during sleep. Remembering happy memories has also been shown to increase serotonin levels and serotonin helps regulate sleep, as well. At the end of the day it’s very easy to reflect on what went wrong and not see the good.

Our eldest now enjoy sitting with us and filling in their My Happy Journal. So My Happy Journal helps their brain to smile and make them sleep more peacefully. “If you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep,” says Dr. Emmons in “Thanks!” his book on gratitude research.

We have also found that colour in pillowcases are a perfect way to relax the mind whilst in bed. They have also proved very useful when they’ve been off school poorly! If your children are struggling to fall asleep at night because their mind won’t slow down, colouring during their bedtime routine is perfectly calming and a great way to practice mindfulness, which can aid in helping them to fall asleep easier and stay asleep longer.

If your child struggles with worries, then having some time at bedtime to go through some calming techniques can help them sleep better. Worries are normal but a little explanation and guidance on how to deal with them can really help! My Little Book of Worries is perfect for parents to use with their child. It helps children understand why they worry, to recognise the signs of worrying and will guide parent and child to ways they can manage their worries.

Sweet dreams!

There are so many advantages to the advancements in technology for children. Broader opportunities for learning and communicating, and development in general are just a few. However, the growing trend of increased screen time at the cost of essential behaviours such as sleep should not be ignored. With a more balanced approach to screen time, the clear benefits can be obtained while still maintaining and prioritising children’s sleep, health and development. Thank you for reading – hope these suggestions help you reduce screen time at bedtime and having a happier, less grumpy child the next morning! Let us know what works for your children.

Jemma & Gill xxx

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