What Smartphone Use Right Before Bed Does to a Child’s Brain

Smartphone Use at Bedtime Smartphone use before sleep isn’t a good idea for anyone — least of all children. In fact, this habit can be especially harmful for children, who may be more susceptible to the effects of screen time on sleep.

Why Smartphone Use Is A Poor Choice for Bedtime

If you’ve ever stayed up too late using your phone in bed, you know smartphones can be disruptive to sleep. They can interfere with healthy rest even when you’ve put them down, making you feel too wired to get to bed.

The same thing happens to children, only in greater degrees. Smartphone use can impact children more than adults because their brains are still developing and their eyes are more sensitive to the bright blue wave light emitted by mobile devices. Blue wave light, in particular, interferes with sleep because it signals to the brain that it’s daytime and time to be alert which, in turn, can disrupt circadian rhythms.

We also know that limiting smartphone use is easier said than done. Smartphones are interactive, mentally engaging, and can influence stress levels, especially if children are spending their phone time texting or chatting on social media. With these factors, it can be difficult for children to let go of screen time and wind down appropriately for bedtime.

But the fact remains, technology and sleep don’t work together for children (or adults). Research tells us that kids who use technology before bed are at a greater risk of less sleep, a lower sleep quality, and feeling more fatigued in the morning. Additionally, research shows that children who watch TV or use smartphones before bed are more likely to have higher body mass indexes.

How Parents Can Help Kids Sleep Better — Despite Technology

Children today are often exposed to technology and mobile devices from an early age, and may find it difficult to sleep well as a result. As a parent, you can support healthy sleep with better sleep habits and placing limits on the use of mobile devices, especially before bed.

  • Have clear guidelines for technology use. Make sure children understand there’s a limit to how much they can use technology, especially mobile devices. Set hours when screen time is not permitted, reserving sleep and rest hours as screen free. Generally, it’s a good idea to stop screen time at least one hour before bed. For children, it may be a good idea to increase this time to two hours or more.

  • Encourage children to develop healthy sleep habits. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule and bedtime routine can be helpful for sleeping well and establishing good sleep habits that will be healthy in the long term. Help them plan their schedule so they have enough time to sleep each night.

  • Give children a healthy sleep environment. Where children sleep is a big part of how well they sleep. Their bedroom should be a place where they feel relaxed and ready to rest. Allowing a TV, mobile device, and other screens in a child’s bedroom is generally detrimental to sleep and should be avoided.

Screens are a part of daily life, and some children use smartphones regularly. Although they can be useful and fun, mobile devices are generally not supportive of healthy sleep. Teach children how to manage their screen time so it doesn’t interfere with their ability to sleep well.

Samantha Kent is a researcher for SleepHelp.org. Her favorite writing topic is how getting enough sleep can improve your life. Currently residing in Boise, Idaho, she sleeps in a California King bed, often with a cat on her face.