In a recent study conducted by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, it was found that teenagers spend up to nine hours1 in front of screens each day – that’s more than a third of the day on electronic devices. And with the added hours of remote learning resulting from the pandemic, these statistics are only expected to rise.
Screens and the sleep-wake cycle
Our 24-hour sleep cycle follows circadian rhythms based on light and darkness. This natural process is why we tend to be awake when it’s bright outside and why our bodies produce the melatonin hormone to prepare us for bedtime as it gets dark.2
The blue light from electronic devices mimics sunlight and tricks the body into thinking it’s still daytime. This causes the body to produce less melatonin, meaning we stay awake for longer, which plays havoc with our circadian sleep-wake cycle.2
Screen time and insomnia
While screen time has been linked to insomnia symptoms, there is debate around whether it causes it. With that being said, studies conducted in the US found that 57% of teenagers exposed to screens before bedtime suffer sleep problems. Studies have also found that teenagers consistently reported poorer sleep with a smartphone, tablet, or TV in their bedroom.2
Solange Fichet, Nurse Case Manager at Cigna, said: “Keeping your phone near your bed can disrupt your sleep, even if you’re not aware of it. The message notifications, buzzing, and light that can suddenly pop on in the middle of the night can wake you up momentarily, leading to interrupted sleep.”
Because young people’s eyes let more light in, it’s believed that they are extra sensitive to the effects of blue light.
Consequences of poor sleep
Limiting screen time is critical to preventing sleep problems for all of us. In young people, a lack of good sleep has been linked to several issues,3 including:
- Mood swings and emotional problems.
- Poor academic performance.
- Weakened immune system.
What can you do to help?
On average, children and teenagers need eight to nine hours of sleep each day.3 In reality, this doesn’t always happen.
If your child is having difficulty getting to sleep or sleeping through the night, here are a few tips that might help:
- Limit screen time. Encourage your child to avoid screens at least an hour before bedtime.
- Be a positive role model. Introduce a household rule that mobile phones and other devices are kept in a family room overnight.
- Routine is vital. Try establishing a fixed time for bed and stick to it.
Let tech help you
One way of helping your child manage their screen time is to install a parental control app on their phone. There are a number of apps available for iOS and Android which include various features,4 such as:
- Screen time limits.
- Content filters.
- Blocker for inappropriate apps and games.
Not only can parental control apps offer you peace of mind, but they will help keep your child safe.
This article was reviewed by Solange Fichet, Nurse Case Manager, TH&N – Integrated Health Team, Cigna.
- Screen time and children. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-And-Watching-TV-054.aspx. Accessed 14 February 2022.
- Screen time and insomnia. The Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/teens-and-sleep/screen-time-and-insomnia-for-teens. Accessed 18 January 2022.
- Adult health. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/how-many-hours-of-sleep-are-enough/faq-20057898. Accessed 7 December 2021.
- Best screen time apps to monitor and limit screen time on your iPhone and Android. Educational App Store. https://www.educationalappstore.com/best-apps/best-parental-control-apps-to-monitor-and-limit-screen-time. Accessed 2 March 2022.