3 reasons screen-time before bed affects your sleep

As a parent I try to follow the rule of modelling the behaviour I want to see in my children.

So if I want them to be polite and say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ I will make sure they hear me saying those things and see me being polite in my interactions with them and with other people.

In some areas though I’m aware that I don’t always stick with this.

Screen-time before bed is definitely one of those areas.

We have a pretty regular bedtime routine in our house for the children, with the standard bath, book, bed thing going on.  And all of that starts with switching off electronic devices and leaving them downstairs when the children go up for their bath.  They’re pretty good about it too, and generally give up the computer and tv without too much fuss.

I, on the other hand, will take my phone and tablet to bed with me. 

And I do wonder how much it’s affecting the quality of my sleep.  It turns out it most likely is having an impact, and here are 3 reasons why.

3 reasons screen time before bed affects your sleep (1)

1. It’s too stimulating

More often than not if I have a tablet in bed with me it’s so I can watch something on Netflix before I fall asleep.

The big problem with this is that I tend to watch things that aren’t really conducive to falling asleep.  They’re either shows that make me feel quite tense, like Prison Break or things that make me laugh like The Good Place.

Either way I get hooked on the story and the characters and then find it hard to disengage and switch my mind off from wondering what’s going to happen with them next.  It also means that I end up having some very strange dreams featuring random characters from the programmes.

 

2. It pushes back the time you get to sleep

Not really surprising but when we spend time in front of any kind of screen before bed it tends to result in us getting to sleep later than we normally would.  If you’re overstimulated from watching your favourite programme, or from the stress of reading a work-related email at bedtime then it will take time to relax enough to actually fall asleep.

There’s also the risk that you allow yourself ‘just one more’ when really you should just go to sleep.  Whether that’s just one more episode of Stranger Things or one more scroll through Instagram.  It all adds up to a later bedtime meaning we end up not getting as much sleep as we need.

 

3. The light from the screen interferes with your body clock

Our bodies rely on cues from the world around us to know when it’s time to wake up and fall asleep.  In particular light is really important for good quality sleep.  In the evening, as it starts to get darker, our bodies produce melatonin which is a hormone that prepares our bodies for sleep.

The thing is though, the blue light that’s given off by computer, tablet and phone screens interferes with this process.

If we spend too much time in front of these kinds of screens at bedtime our bodies end up not producing enough melatonin and we just don’t feel sleepy.

 

So, what can we do to reduce the affect that screen time at bedtime has on our sleep?

 

Well the obvious thing to do would be follow the same bedtime routine as the children.  Stop allowing ourselves to have that extra screen-time before bed and choose to have a nice bath and then read a book instead before falling asleep.

In reality though, I’m not sure I could stick with that every night.

It might just be down to habit but I like winding down by watching a film or a series on the tv or tablet.  I can help myself by choosing more relaxing things to watch at bedtime; I still find Gilmore Girls is good for pretty low-stress viewing.  And I’ve realised recently that there’s a night-time mode on the iPad that brings the brightness down to make it less stimulating.  You can also get a blue light screen protector for most devices which reduces the amount of blue light given off.  This would help our bodies to keep producing the melatonin we need at bedtime to help us feel sleepy and fall asleep.

I have a few books on my to-read list so I think it might be time to try and change my habits a bit and have a few evenings a week when I read in bed rather than watch something.  I’m not sure I’ll ever completely break the habit of having screen-time at bedtime though, but knowing that there are things I can do to reduce its impact makes me feel better.

 

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post

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