Parents of newborns expect the sleepless nights. But surprisingly, sleep problems can pop back up once your children reach the tweens and teens. 78 percent of teenagers now have a personal cell phone, which they use for activities such as surfing the web, text messaging, and playing with apps.
The problem is media use, especially cell phones and tablets, strongly impacts the quantity and quality of your child's sleep. How does media use affect children's sleep patterns? Researchers have several explanations and easy strategies to help tweens and teens (and parents!) "sleep through the night."
1. Break up screen time and bedtime
Children who watch television immediately before bedtime struggle to fall asleep. Research published in the journal Pediatrics found that children do best when the pre-bedtime period does not include electronic stimulation. Another study found children who watch television or a tablet in bed sleep, on average, almost 20 minutes less per night than their peers who fall asleep without television.
2. Park electronics in common areas
Make a family rule that cell phones, tablets, and other portable electronics remain in communal areas at night. This aids parents in three ways. First, children will not stay up past their bedtime texting friends. Second, texts and other pings and dings will not wake up them up during the night. Finally, you remind children that phones are family property – not private – when they plug their phones in each night.
3. Check the media your child uses or watches
Commonsensemedia.org offers reviews and age recommendations for most television programs and movies, along with many other media types. For example, they recommend you wait to watch most of the Star Wars movies until at least age eight. Checking age appropriateness helps avoid secondary problems that cause sleep disruptions like nightmares and overstimulation. Additionally, Facebook and other social networking sites have minimum age limits.
4. Follow the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting entertainment screen time to two hours per day. This number remains consistent as your child ages – but becomes challenging because of the educational activities that must be completed using media outlets such as the internet. While your child may increase screen time for educational purposes, the fun stuff should be limited and the two hour time frame should remain a goal. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that today’s teens spend on average 7.5 hours a day engaging media such as going online, watching television and texting – a number far greater than the AAP recommendation.
5. Put your devices down
Activity naturally leads to more sleep and better sleep overall. In addition to limiting screen time, the AAP also recommends at least 60 minutes of activity time for children six and up. The recent Play 60 campaign brought together major names such as the NFL, President Obama, and the American Heart Association to publicize this AAP goal. As parents, monitor your children’s activities and require them to take a break from media and get active outside. A side benefit will be the increased heart health and lifelong habits children create by learning to love physical activity.
Though your tweens and teens may not need a bedtime story and tuck anymore, they still need parents to look out for their best interests. Sleep remains an important part of development, and these research-based suggestions provide a simple starting place for families navigating the always-connected world of today’s teens.