How to reduce screen time before bed

Emily Lawrenson

Emily Lawrenson

Qustodio writer

Reduce screen time before bed


It can be difficult to know when the time is right to switch off the electronics before heading off to bed. Children and parents alike are finding it more and more of a task to disconnect at the end of the day, struggling to create a bedtime routine that isn’t interrupted by the pings of social media or the latest update from grandma in the family group chat. Here’s how your family, from its littlest to its largest, can learn how to reduce screen time before bed, get better quality sleep, and improve everyone’s digital wellbeing.

Does screen time before bed affect sleep?

Your body has its own internal clock, controlled by the release of hormones. These hormones help tell your body when it’s time to go to sleep. The hormone cortisol is produced during the day, while the hormone which is naturally released at night, melatonin, comes into play when it starts to get dark. 

Screens such as those on smartphones, laptops, and TV sets emit something called blue light. Blue light has been shown to interfere with your body’s natural melatonin production, shutting off the “sleepy” signals it sends to your brain before bed. This exposure makes it harder for you to settle at night, keeping you awake for longer than you should be.

How long before bed should you turn off screens?

There are no specific guidelines surrounding the ideal time to turn off screens before bed, but giving your mind and body a significant rest period away from the distractions of technology is the goal. Aim to create a bedtime routine which is completely screen-free from start to finish – at least 30 minutes in length. The UK’s National Health Service recommends not letting children look at screens 30-60 minutes before going to sleep, as part of a healthy bedtime routine.

How to help young children reduce screen time before bed

Screen time in young children often revolves around TV habits, as they often engage in more family-oriented activities like watching a movie together. However, if your young child is ready for their own cell phone or tablet, you’ll want to keep this in mind when setting up the right bedtime routine, and the screen time rules you apply before bedtime. 
1. Agree on a time to turn the TV off

Many families enjoy settling down to watch a good movie, or their favorite series in the evening. Once movie night’s over, though, try to give your family some space and time to relax before it’s the moment to hit the hay. If you have a regular bedtime for your kids, agree on a time that you as a family should turn the TV off for the night. If you’re in for a one-off movie session, start earlier than you normally would so you can ensure that precious hour of screen-free wind down starts after the credits roll.

2. Set screen time limits on electronic devices

Using a screen time tool is a great way to keep your family focused on daily routines. Qustodio allows you to create a screen time schedule for your children, where hours in the day are blocked out – for example, from 9pm to 10pm. During this time, they won’t be able to engage with their connected devices. For the path of least resistance, you could even make this a rule for the whole family, putting away your own devices and concentrating on family time together before bed. 

3. Create new bedtime rituals and habits

If you’re introducing a “no screen time before bed” rule, you may want to consider trying new activities that help you bond as a family and which allow your kids to wind down before they nod off. Reading a story together, writing a journal entry, or relaxing with a guided meditation or yoga session could be an excellent way of signaling it’s time to rest. These wind-down activities could then serve as excellent relaxation tools for your kids as they grow and become more independent.


Reduce family screen time before bed

Reducing screen time before bed for teenagers

In a survey run by the National Sleep Foundation, 96% of teenagers between the ages of 15 and 17 observed that they brought some kind of technology into their bedroom. The survey concluded that a deficiency in sleep was more likely to be present when both parents and children had electronic devices on in their bedrooms past bedtime.

When it comes to teenagers, setting limits for screen time before bed may seem more challenging, but there are several things you can do to help keep device usage minimal and encourage your child to develop healthier sleep habits. 

1. Keep devices out of the bedroom

If your teenager is a serial scroller during those early morning hours, one option could be to create a device-free environment. Keep TVs, tablets, cell phones and even laptops out of their sleeping space – either round the clock, or past a certain time in the day if they prefer to do schoolwork in their room. Even if your child has a limit on screen time in the evenings, the simple fact that their cell phone or laptop is with them in the room adds the extra temptation to reach for it if they wake up during the night.

2. Encourage your teenager to be mindful of their device usage

It’s a good idea to explain the reasons behind why screen time at night is a concern, rather than simply imposing new rules “for their own good”. Help your teenager understand the science behind how technology use affects their sleep, and why you care about it. Instead of just setting a rule, talk to your teenager regularly about how their device use makes them feel

Asking them questions such as “When you stay up and scroll on your phone at night, how does it affect you the next day?”, or “How does it make you feel if you’re without your phone for several hours?” could encourage them to be more mindful of their device usage and the consequences of their technology habits.

3. Set screen time limits for both common areas and the bedroom

Screen time isn’t just limited to the bedroom. Maybe your teenager doesn’t have a structured or set bedtime routine (if you can, it’s a good idea to encourage them to have one), but it’s recommended to limit device usage in the hours before bedtime, wherever they are in the house. This will reduce their exposure to blue light and help signal that it’s time to wind down for the night. 

For an easy way to set screen time limits that the whole family can follow, try a parental control tool that restricts device usage during certain times of day. By using a tool that applies the same rules daily, you can forget about looking at the clock or accidentally allowing your child to run over their limit – this can all be taken care of in the background! 

4. Model ideal device usage yourself

No matter your child’s age, you’re often the example for model behavior, so it’s a good idea for your entire family to become more mindful of how you use devices before bed. If you’re blocking screen time on your child’s devices before they go to bed, set your own phone or laptop down during that time, so they see how you engage in healthy screen time habits yourself. Turn the TV off after a certain time each day, and leave your cell phone out of the bedroom – whatever helps your teenager recognize the effort you’re putting in as a family to reduce screen time before bed, and enjoy better quality sleep. 

Tips for the whole family to get better sleep

By practicing good sleep hygiene, you’ll find it much easier to fall asleep…and stay asleep! Here are some easy ways your family can prioritize sleep and improve sleep quality:

  • Set a regular bedtime routine for your kids. By going to bed at roughly the same time every day, and by following a more structured routine, they know what to expect and will (hopefully) fall asleep more easily. 
  • Regularly spend time outdoors in natural light. This will encourage them to feel more alert during the day, and sleepier at night.
  • Avoid nap times, except in very young children. If your child no longer needs a specified nap time, encourage them to avoid napping during the day so their bodily clock isn’t affected by midday sleeping.
  • Get moving! Regular physical activity and exercise helps improve mood, stress, and increases the chances of getting a good night’s sleep.
Above all, remember the role that you as a parent can play in your child’s sleep habits, both new and old. The best way for your kids to learn how to reduce screen time before bed is to learn from you, so model appropriate sleep hygiene – including with technology. You’ll soon all be reaping the benefits of a good night’s sleep!
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