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SALT LAKE CITY — Bedtime has become a battle zone.
Children are engaging with more screens for increased hours at decreased ages. Both parents and their children need sleep but are competing with the glow of the technological world.
Here are five ways to win the bedtime battle:
1. Understand the effects of blue light
Screen time does not just distract from bedtime, it affects the body. Most screens emit blue light — a specific range of the light spectrum — and also what makes the sky blue. When bodies are exposed to blue light at nighttime hours, it's like your brain sends a message saying, "It's still daytime, wake up!"
Blue light suppresses melatonin, the chemical that helps prepare the body for sleep. All light can suppress melatonin, but blue light at night packs a powerful wake-up punch.
Researchers from Harvard conducted an experiment comparing the effects of exposure to blue light versus green light. According to their research, "the blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much."
2. Know your child's sleep rhythm
Our brains have an internal clock based on a 24-hour cycle that circles between sleep and wakefulness. It's our circadian rhythm, and everyone has a unique one.
Some children may have a rhythm that wakes them up earlier, others that keep them up at night. By understanding your child's rhythm, you can find the best bedtime.
To discover your child's rhythm, ask these questions:
- What time do they wake up naturally without assistance?
- Are they staying up late each night because they want to? Or are they staying up late because there are screens and other activities at home?
- When do they have the most energy?
Blue light from screens can disrupt that rhythm but can also help. If your child struggles to get up in the morning, have them use a screen earlier in the day rather than later. The blue light can encourage wakefulness and attentiveness.
3. Know how many hours your child needs to sleep
Do you know how many hours your child needs to sleep? Are they getting those hours?
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine published sleep guidelines based on a 24-hour cycle. The guidelines say infants should sleep 12 to 16 hours a day, young children should get about 12 hours of shut-eye, older children need nine to 12 hours of sleep and teens should get eight to 10 hours each day.
These hours can be particularly difficult to meet with early-morning school, practices in the morning or evening and both young children and teens at home with different sleep rhythms.
Knowing both your child's sleep rhythm and how many hours they need can help you figure out the optimum time for bedtime and when devices also need to go to bed. For optimum sleep, all electronic devices should be shut down at least an hour before bed.
4. Digital help for bedtime battles
The American Academy of Pediatrics said, "There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that media use negatively affects sleep." However, technology can not only hinder sleep, it can help it.
Some digital tools that can help your child fall and stay asleep include:
- Night mode: Many devices include a night or sleep mode function. It can typically be found in settings and decreases the amount of blue light the device emits. Some devices even emit more red light, which is known to encourage sleepiness. Try to use night mode two to three hours before bedtime.
- White noise: White noise is the combination of many noises. Since your brain can't pick out one noise, the many sounds of white noise mask other sounds. White noise can help sleep and drowns out any electronic sounds that may be in the next room. There are specific white noise machines available to create this sound, as well as apps like White Noise.
- Timers: For young children, transitioning from one activity to another can be very difficult. Instead of just shutting off the TV or tablet, use a timer. Then, when that timer goes off, consistently stick to the bedtime technology rules. There are many automatic shut-down apps or timers available, and some applications like YouTube Kids have built-in parental timers.
5. Model healthy behaviors
One of the most impactful things parents can do to win the bedtime battle is to model healthy tech behavior themselves. If you are on your phone at night, how do you expect your child to put it away? Conduct a self-inventory on ways that you can improve your own sleep.
Ask yourself these questions about your habits:
- When do I put away screens at night?
- Are my devices in my room or on my bed?
- Am I going to bed and waking up at the best times for my sleep rhythm?
Parents may not win all the bedtime battles, but if they are consistent with their routine and device use, they can win the war. Healthy behaviors developed in childhood are more likely to continue to adulthood because one day your child will have to find their routine, habits and rhythm without you leading the charge.