Memory And The Impact of Screen Time

Memory And The Impact of Screen Time

More screen time can lead to less sleep, impacting what kids remember and retain.

There are few things worse than a tired kiddo, no matter if they’re 5 or 15. The extra sass and grumbles are definitely tiresome, but more concerning are the memory and cognitive issues that can result from sleep loss. Many factors can affect a kid’s sleep, including physical exercise and stress. But more and more studies are showing a direct relationship between night-time screen usage and sleep issues, and in turn memory retention.

Obviously, if your kid stays up until midnight gaming or texting, squeezing in the recommended 8 to 10 hours of sleep will be nearly impossible. But even if they put away those devices by bedtime, it could take an hour or more for their brains to enter sleep mode.

That’s because video games and media consumed right before bed can cause an adrenaline rush that keeps minds whirling. According to Harvard Medical School researchers, the blue light emitted from bright screens suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep and then keeps us asleep through the night.

That’s bad news for the quality of deep REM sleep your kid gets (and really needs). REM, or rapid-eye-movement, sleep is necessary for banking the information retained during the day, such as important school lessons and assignments. That means that an extra hour of gaming at night could have an effect on whether your kid retains details of their history lesson that day. 

Even reading on a device right before bed can affect sleep patterns. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital studied people who read nightly from an iPad and those who read from a printed book. Those who read from the device were less sleepy at night, experienced less melatonin secretion and a delay in their circadian rhythm, and were less alert in the morning after eight hours of sleep versus those who read from a printed book. 

Sleep issues are not just limited to teens who are left to their own devices. Doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital studied the sleep data of kids aged 9 to 11 and found that longer periods of daily screen time were associated with less sleep. The preteens who got fewer than the AAP recommended 9 to 12 hours of sleep were more likely to have attention and memory issues, less control over their actions and behaviors, and lower ability to deal with stress.

What’s a parent to do? Screens aren’t going anywhere. Our kids rely on them for communication, social interaction, and increasingly education. Parents can’t eliminate them completely, but they can limit device use at night. Studies show that more than two hours of screen time at night can affect melatonin levels. And sleep therapists suggest putting away all screens (including television) at least one hour before going to bed so your kid’s mind can wind down and prepare for rest.

If your busy tween or teen must stay up late occasionally to finish homework, try reducing the brightness on their screens. Also consider investing in a pair of blue-light-blocking glasses so melatonin production isn’t disrupted. Even better: Have them plug in their devices in a designated location outside their bedroom for an uninterrupted night of sleep. For more ideas to get your tweens and teens to bed on time, check out these 10 sleep tips to help manage your kids' sleep schedule and ensure they get enough sleep for optimal physical and mental wellness.