Ahh the bedtime process. Sometimes it can be quite an ordeal. And by the end of the day, I. am. done. Many times kids are tired, they just like to hold out as long as they can with the bedtime shenanigans. But if your little one has had screen time right before nap or bedtime, this may actually be the problem and your child can't help it!
The Science Behind It
All screens emit blue light and research has shown that it disrupts the release of melatonin, which is released from the brain a few hours before bedtime and reaches its peak in the middle of the night. If kids aren't getting adequate amount of melatonin, then they won't be sleepy at their normal bed time!
The National Sleep Foundation says that when you look at a screen before bed, it takes you longer to fall asleep, you tend to have less REM sleep, and wake up feeling sleepier - even after sleeping eight hours.
The American Optometric Association cites research that found blue light to interfere with the body's circadian rhythm, which is how the body tells awake time vs sleep time.
Interestingly, the sun also emits blue light. But when the sun is up, those are usually our waking hours. When the sun goes down, it's time for our bodies to start winding down for sleep.
How to Help Our Children
For kids, the solution is pretty simple. Don't allow the use of screens within a few hours of bedtime. Let their bodies start producing melatonin to prepare for sleep naturally with no interference from the blue light from screens. If you have young children who still take naps, the same advice would be relevant before nap time as well.
In our home, we have found that the best time for screen use (if there is going to be any) is the late afternoon. Morning screen time seems to set them off on the wrong foot and we have grumpy, irritable children the rest of the day. With afternoon screen time, they have the opportunity to do all of the other more important tasks for the day - imaginative play, outdoor play, reading, chores, school, homework, extra-curricular activities, etc. If there is time leftover (which many days there isn't and they have learned not to expect screen time), they are allowed to watch a TV show. Then their bodies still have time to wind down in the evening.
But that is what works for us! It may not be the same for your family, so I encourage you to experiment. The most important thing is that you set limits and boundaries and stick to them. No screens after 6:00 P.M. would be a good place to start!
But What About Adults?
For many adults, scrolling social media or reading books on a device while laying in bed has become a new normal.
I can tell you I experience the effects of blue light and notice a difference if I work on the computer before bed vs sewing or creating before bed. I usually stay up late (probably way too late after reading all of this research on sleep) and even though I am exhausted, it takes me a lot longer to fall asleep when I've been working on my computer.
Here are some things you can do to help your body prepare for sleep:
- Put the screens down an hour or two before bedtime also. Choose alternative activities such as reading an actual book or writing in a journal, etc.
- If you just can't break away from screens (I get it - when the kids are in bed it's YOUR time, and I often save my computer work for then), you can get some blue light blocking glasses to wear while you are using your screen. I bought some from Eye Buy Direct and you can choose any style. I don't normally wear glasses, but if you do I believe you can get lenses for both. If you enter the code DIGI20, you can get 20% off. The glasses I chose here were only about $30!
- Install www.justgetflux.com on your computer. It will change the look of your screen at night time to more amber color instead of bright blue light. It is a free download, and when I did it I immediately felt more calm and sleepy as I watched it change color from blue to amber. It was surprising! But, I found that if I needed to edit photos or something where color mattered, this is not the best option. Colors are very altered, and using the glasses would be a better.
- If you're on your phone or tablet, you can change the settings to reduce the blue light! On my iPhone I went to SETTINGS > DISPLAY & BRIGHTNESS > and program NIGHT SHIFT. It will automatically dim your phone to more of an amber color and not bright blue light at the time you set it for.
I actually have mine programmed to be on all day/night by setting it to turn on at 6:59 PM and turn off at 6:58 PM. But you can choose to just doing it during dark hours.
Hopefully you can implement at least one of these options to get some more restful sleep for yourself!
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