Q: My children like to watch TV before bed, and they often fall asleep while it’s still on. I have a feeling that that's not good for them, but I’m not sure why. Can you offer any guidance?
Uncertain about Sleep in Duluth, MN
A: Dear Uncertain about Sleep,
Many parents find themselves in your situation because it seems to make sense to use TV as a way of slowing kids down from the activity of the day and preparing them for sleep. But you’re right to be concerned—research shows that TV actually does the opposite — it makes their brains more active instead of less! Part of the reason is that looking at something bright like a TV screen turns off the brain chemical that makes us sleepy and turns on the brain chemical that gets us ready to be active.
What I would suggest is to set up bedtime rituals with your kids that gradually move them toward sleep and do not include media. Doing the same sequence of events every single night can help ensure that kids get enough sleep and that their sleep is undisturbed. This routine could involve a bath, some reading, talking about the things you're thankful for, turning on a night-light, tucking the child in with his or her blanket or stuffed animal, or any other winding down activities you can think of.
A question I have thought about a lot is "Why are so many kids—like most of those I see in my practice—getting less sleep than they need to keep their bodies functioning at their best?" Part of the answer is that they have so much going on during the day. They wake up very early for school, have sports or drama or something else that extends their after-school time, come home to eat dinner, do their homework, and find that it’s suddenly very late at night. And then they start using media—especially if they have TVs or computers or video games in their bedrooms. They stay awake to use them, and when they fall asleep in front of the screen, it’s because they’ve stayed awake until they can’t possibly stay awake anymore. As a parent, you can help break the cycle by keeping screen media in public areas (out of bedrooms), knowing what activates and what calms your children, and knowing what kinds of things are helpful for kids' sleeping patterns at different ages.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,