We know that excessive screen time is never a good thing, but researchers from Arizona State have found that the use of media an hour before bedtime impacts how children sleep, and often results in later bedtimes and fewer hours of sleep.
We’re sort of surprised that it’s not more common knowledge, but then again, nothing surprises us these days. While research has suggested that watching television or using a screen right before bed results in poorer sleep quality for adults, now researchers from the Arizona State University Department of Psychology (ASU) have concluded that media use in the hour before your kids go to bed impacts their sleep–and especially impacts the sleep of children who may already struggle to self-regulate and control their behavior.
Leah Done is an associate professor of psychology at ASU, and the senior author of the research paper. She said that kids using media before bed frequently often resulted in later bedtimes and fewer hours of sleep.
Doane said that with kids who used the same amount of media/screen time in the hour before bed, the differences in impact were based on a personality characteristic called effortful control. Kids who score lower on effortful control measurements are the kids who are easily distracted or have a hard time waiting to unwrap a present or eat a candy they’re told to wait for. In the children who had difficulty with measures of effortful control, media use within the hour before bed impacted when the kids went to sleep and how long they slept. In children who didn’t have issues with effortful control or who scored higher on measurements, media use before bed wasn’t clearly associated with their sleep patterns.
The research focused on 547 children who were between the ages of 7-9, and were from socioeconomically diverse backgrounds living in both urban and rural areas. Parents of the children were asked to keep daily diaries that kept track of their children’s media use and screen patterns. They also filled out surveys that told about their children’s temperament and ability to use self-control and regulate their own behavior.
This went on for a week, and in that week, the kids wore wrist watches called autographs. These specialized watches kept track of ambient light and movement, and gave the researchers data on when and for how long the children slept.
During the study week, children slept an average of 8 hours a night and used media/screens for an average of 5 of the 7 nights. Kids who didn’t use screens/media before bed slept 23 minutes more and went to bed 34 minutes earlier than children who used media most of the study nights.
Sierra Clifford is a research scientist at ASU and first author on the paper. She said that the impact was based on an average and not necessarily reflective of an occasional late-night movie watching.
Clifford also noted that children who scored low on effortful control measures slept the least amount of time when they were consistent users of media/screens in the hour before they went to bed. They sleep about 40 minutes less a night. Clifford said that media exposure mattered the most for the children who measured the lowest in effortful control, and may struggle with switching attention from media/screen watching before bed to calming down and falling asleep. Effortful control is a personality characteristic and less likely to change, but media/screen usage is a variable that we can (and should) control.
Doane said that parents may be better off helping their child have consistent sleep schedules that regulated media use instead of trying to figure out how to help their child regulate their behavior.