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How are screens affecting my kid's sleep?

Facts and solutions to make sure kids are getting enough of the world's most precious resource.

Sleep is one of those things that—once we made it past diapers and naps—we thought would get easier. And for you lucky parents whose kids go to bed at the same time every night and wake up bright and cheerful: nice work. For most of us, though, sleep is an ongoing challenge, especially as kids get older.

Our kids are tired.

Despite the recommendation that kids need as much as 9 to 12 hours of sleep a night, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 75% of teens get less than 7 hours a night. And devices definitely play a role: New research from Common Sense found a whopping 69% of teens now take their mobile devices to bed—with 29% actually sleeping with them, and 36% being awakened by notifications in the night. Screen time usually doesn't stop in the hour before bed, even though doctors recommend it. Seventy percent of teens report checking their mobile device within 30 minutes of falling asleep.

We know the dangers: Without enough sleep, kids could be more at risk for obesity, poor academic performance, unsafe behaviors like smoking or drinking, and even depression. But it's not an easy problem to solve. As kids get older, there's more homework, more extracurricular activities, and more socializing outside of school. Plus, school starts SO early.

How do screens affect sleep?

When it comes to screens and sleep, there are three main problems:

  • Blue light interrupts natural sleep rhythms. Blue light from the sun tells us when to wake up. The highly concentrated form emitted from screens does the same thing.
  • Just using a device is stimulating. Using screens in the hour before bed makes it harder to fall asleep because it keeps the brain alert when it should be winding down.
  • Devices have invaded the bedroom. When homework happens online and phones never leave our sides, it's increasingly difficult to keep bedrooms screen-free zones.

So what can we do to help kids get enough sleep?

Doctors call the practice of having a regular bed and wake time, along with a quiet and cool place to sleep, "good sleep hygiene." These days, a healthy bedtime routine includes cutting out screens. Here are our basic recommendations:

  • Limit screen use before bed. Whenever possible, shut everything off—including TVs—at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Ban screens from bedrooms at night. Kids may fight you on this one. Especially if they've been using their phones as alarms or to listen to music before bed. Stand your ground! Bust out the old-fashioned alarm clock and boom box. Smart speakers can also be a solution.
  • Block the blue light. Make sure kids are using "dark mode" on their devices if they absolutely must use them within an hour of sleep. Blue light blocking glasses or apps that filter it out could also be helpful.
  • Shut off notifications. If taking phones away at night is too much of a battle, or just impractical, make sure kids shut off their notifications at night. You can use built-in features like Apple's Screen Time or Android's Family Link to control them yourself.
  • Turn off the Wi-Fi. Use a Family Media Agreement to create a rule that all devices and Wi-Fi turn off at a specific hour. Internet service providers, routers, and parental control hardware like Circle Home Plus make shutting off everything easy. (Check out the Ultimate Guide to Parental Controls for more info.)
  • Walk the walk. Honestly, this is the hardest step. Our research shows that parents are also guilty of sleeping with their devices and being woken up by notifications. But if you ask your kid to charge their phone in the kitchen while yours stays at your bedside, it can be difficult for them to listen.

How to deal with specific situations.

Maybe you have your sleep routine down pat. Screens off. Teeth brushed. Books read. But then something comes and throws a wrench into the whole plan. We've got some tips:

Summers and holidays

Kids need a break from the pressures of school, no doubt. But staying up all night watching YouTube or playing Fortnite isn't going to do anyone any good. Try shifting bedtime an hour or two later, max, as long as they can make up the sleep in the morning.

School stress and homework

If you've got a highly motivated kid, you can remind them that sleep is actually going to help them perform better on tests. Then set devices and Wi-Fi to go off at an agreed upon hour. If they need to finish an essay, suggest they find time at lunch or study hall.

Friends are online late

When the other kids are up late on a group chat or playing video games, it makes it doubly difficult to pry your kid off the device. Our best advice is to talk to other parents and suggest a cut-off time for games or texts.

Friend drama

Kids use their devices to bond with friends—just like we used the telephone when we were young. But putting a stop to communication can be a relief for kids embroiled in social dramas. Be flexible enough that if it seems like a friend truly needs support, you'll allow an extra 30 minutes of chat time (encourage a phone call or FaceTime for deeper empathy).

Obsessed with game/app

A new game or app (Fortnite, anyone?) that demands lots of playtime to level up can make kids want to play for hours—even past their bedtime. Some kids wait for parents to go to sleep and then jump on the Xbox. Hide the controllers or use parental controls to shut off Wi-Fi or devices.


Kids who are suffering with mental health issues can find lots of support online. But research is very clear that a lack of sleep makes anxiety and depression worse. So give kids time online (and in real life!) to connect with friends and access resources, but protect the sleep of vulnerable kids with extra vigilance.

Sierra Filucci
Sierra is a journalist with a special interest in media and families. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley, and she's been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade. As her kids get older, Sierra has developed a special fascination with youth culture, including YouTubers, gamers, social media, and slang. When she's not watching Marvel movies and Parks and Recreation with her kids, she enjoys reading young adult books, walking her dog, and streaming dystopian thrillers late at night.