How screen time can sabotage your toddler’s sleep

by | Mar 23, 2021 | technology & kids | 0 comments

We all know toddlers shouldn’t be watching too much tv or having too much screen time with the ipad. Have you ever wondered about how screen time can sabotage your toddler’s sleep? Well today, we have Dr Kristy Goodwin, Digital Health & Wellbeing expert, writing for us about just that.

Dr Kristy Goodwin


Today’s toddlers and pre-schoolers are spending more and more time with screens and often before sleep or naptime. This can play havoc with both the amount and quality of the sleep they’re accumulating.

In 2017 the Australian Child Health Poll,[1] conducted by the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, revealed that almost half of all children (43%) use digital devices before bedtime and one in four of these children (26%) report having sleep problems.

How screens impact your little one’s sleep

Using screens before sleep can delay sleep time. Small handheld devices like smartphones and tablets emit blue light, which suppresses the body’s production of the sleep hormone, melatonin.

“If our kids are using small devices before nap or sleep time, then this can delay the onset of sleep”

Over time, these sleep delays can accumulate into a significant sleep deficit. We also know that handheld devices tend to be more interactive, so using these devices before sleep can hyper-arouse young children, making sleep more difficult to induce. (As parents, we know how even a 15 minute sleep delay at night can feel like three hours!)

How screen time can sabotage your toddler's sleep - Dr Kristy Goodwin

Addicted to screens

Many parents are reporting that their children are waking at earlier and earlier times to get their daily dose of digital (often before their parents wake up).

In parent seminars I share a story of a 3-year-old girl who was waking up each day before her parents and using the iPad. After changing the 6-digit password they were shocked to still find their daughter on the iPad when they meandered downstairs each morning.

How did she do it?

She’d sneak into her parents’ bedroom and use dad’s thumbprint (he’d sleep with his arms hanging out of the bed) to unlock the device.

Scary or genius, I’ll let you decide?

“The presence of devices in bedrooms can also compromise the quality of the sleep your toddler or preschooler receives.”

Viewing scary or violent content can cause nightmares, particularly amongst younger children under 10 years of age (they’re susceptible to experiencing intense fear as a result of viewing disturbing footage or images because they’re psychologically unable to distinguish fiction from reality until between 8-10 years, typically).

Whilst many parents wisely restrict their kids’ exposure to violent movies and/or video games, sometimes we overlook the scary or disturbing images or video that are featured on TV news programs, or shared on movie trailers.

To promote good sleep hygiene

Keeping technology out of bedrooms is a great habit to start while your child is young (your future self will thank you).

We need bedrooms to be tech-free zones. Seeing a digital device in the bedroom can act as a mental trigger to start to think about screen activities (I wonder if I can watch Peppa Pig today?). Many primary and secondary students’ sleep quality is being hampered by devices in bedrooms that ping and beep throughout the night, interfering with sleep cycles and quality of the sleep they’re receiving. If you start these healthy tech habits while kids are still young, it will have long-term benefits.

How screen time can sabotage your toddler's sleep - Dr Kristy Goodwin

Simple strategies to promote healthy sleep routines

// Digital bedtime

Ideally, pre-schoolers and toddlers should avoid using digital devices 90 minutes before they go to sleep. Research has shown that kids’ brains and eyes need a break from screens at least 90 minutes before bedtime (even 60 minutes has been shown to improve sleep). So just like your child has a bedtime, so too should digital devices.

// Bedrooms as tech-free zones

We need to keep devices out of bedrooms. Simple. Not only does the presence of technology in the bedroom impact on the quality and quantity of sleep kids get, but there are serious issues related to cyber-safety when kids have access to technology at night.

// Have a landing zone

Nominate a specific area in your house where all digital devices go to get charged each night. This allows you to do a ‘head count’ of the six tablets, five laptops, and eight smartphones before your go to bed each night.

// Do a technology-swap

I’m a Mum so I’m not going to propose absolutely no screens before bed.  Just think carefully about what they’re doing on screens before bed.  Avoid rapid-fire, fast-paced screen action, as it hyper-stimulates the brain. Doing a screen swap can also work well.

Watching TV and not the iPad before bed is a better choice as TVs don’t tend to emit as much blue light as mobile devices and kids don’t (usually) sit as close to TVs as they handheld devices.

Listening to music or an audiobook instead of watching a screen may also be a better choice.

Birde also have a great range of audiobooks (plus a host of other educational and entertainment content for kids aged 0-5 years). Birde provide young children with a safe, educational way to enjoy listening to music, watch their favourite videos or listen to an audio book.

// Get more sunlight

Yes, greentime! Time outdoors in nature is such a simple strategy that can counteract some of the negative impacts of screens! The more natural sunlight that kids get in the daytime (especially between 8am-12pm), the better their body is able to desensitise itself to blue light’s effects at bedtime. So even if your kids do use screens at night, they’re not as likely to be adversely impacted by this exposure. Yet another reason, that we need to get kids outside!

How screen time can sabotage your toddler's sleep - Dr Kristy Goodwin

About Dr Kristy Goodwin

Dr Kristy Goodwin is a digital health and wellbeing educator, speaker, author and mum to two energetic boys plus one on the way (and yes, she’s experienced her kids’ techno-tantrums). Kristy helps parents and professionals navigate the digital world with kids and teens, without the guilt, grief and guesswork. Kristy translates the science and research about how technology is impacting children, teens and adults into practical advice and realistic tips. It help us tame our tech habits, so we’re not a slave to the screen. You can find more here at

Want more ideas?

Want more practical ideas about fostering healthy and helpful digital habits with your toddler or pre-schooler? Check out my eBook I’ve written to help parents, or watch a video of my signature parent seminar for 2-5 year olds here. I’m launching a Switched on Parents’ Portal in January 2019 (register your details if you want to know more, or get an early bird discount).


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