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Screen Time

The Battle for Screen Time and Your Child’s Sleep

By David A. Morris, LCSW

Do you remember the riddle: What gets wetter and wetter as you get drier and drier? Answer: A towel of course!

How about this riddle: What light makes you feel great, motivated and super focused by day but by night numbs your brain’s reward system, increases stress, and causes havoc to your sleep routine? Answer: It’s blue light from your screens. Flat screen televisions, smart phones, e-readers, tablets and more

screen-time_-new-directions-counselingStudies from all over the world, including Harvard Medical School, are landing on the same conclusion that screen time is hazardous to our health. More importantly, our children are at great risk for chaotic sleep rhythms. “Previous studies have shown that media use, particularly electronic media use in the evening, is associated with poor sleep in adolescents and adults. This study shows that such relationships can be observed much earlier in life – even in the first 3-4 years,” said Dr. Daniel Buysse, a sleep medicine researcher at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

What are the risks to blue light (back lit) screen time?

  1. Direct Damage to Sleep – Sleep is our time to grow and heal. Sleep allows our bodies to fight germs, attack infection, grow muscles and bone density. Harvard researchers and their colleagues conducted an experiment comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light(back lit screens) with exposure to green light of comparable brightness. The blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms, 24-hour internal clock in your brain that cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals, by twice as much (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours).
  2. Mood Manipulation – Screen time reduces the production of melatonin, a hormone that influences circadian rhythms, which is linked to depression. The amount of dopamine released during screen time creates increased demands for more stimulation which the receptors can’t possibly meet. Our ability to regulate our moods relies heavily on the health of those receptors and regular sleep.
  3. Attention and Focus Fails – Screen time appears to activating much of our stress hormone, cortisol. Hyper arousal from over stimulation starts to suppress the functions of your frontal lobe. This area is where most of our focus and attention is executed.

Here are some key questions to consider regarding screen time:

  • Is your child having trouble falling asleep without having a screen on at night?
  • Does your child appear exhausted but still can’t sleep?
  • Does your child eventually fall asleep but doesn’t feel rested?
  • Is your child becoming increasingly reliant on screen time at night for sleep, entertainment or calming down?
  • Have you noticed dilated pupils after using electronics?
  • Have you noticed an increase in colds, ailments, and soreness?


If you are concerned about your child and the use of screen time in your household, please contact New Directions Counseling Services at 724.395.3904. One our compassionate, expert child/family therapists can help you.