By Brittney Stefanic
I know, I know. It’s tough to imagine putting your phone down any earlier. You need it to stay connected to work; you want it to mindlessly scroll on social media, while peacefully in bed; and you have a big-time habit of taking it everywhere you go! I’m with ya, mama. 100%.
But, there is science here that we just can’t ignore. In addition to causing extra stress depending on the type of scrolling done at bedtime, the blue light that is emitted from our devices (phones, tablets, TVs) has been shown to inhibit the production of melatonin.
According to studies, the reason blue light is so problematic is that it has a short wavelength that affects levels of melatonin more than any other wavelength does.
Melatonin is the main sleep hormone, and we (both parents and our newborns), need plenty of it to fall asleep at bedtime and stay asleep through the night. Your phone use is actually biologically changing the production of the hormones being produced by your body... YIKES!
The often underestimated impact of screen time is how it can affect your baby too, leading to potential baby sleep problems as your child (through secondary exposure) is overstimulated by bright lights and finds it much harder to sleep at night.
But, rather than lecture you about the negative impact that your device is likely having on the sleep habits of you and your baby, I wanted to share with you 4 tips for how to reduce your screen time for better sleep TONIGHT!
Your phone use is actually biologically changing the production of the hormones being produced by your body... YIKES!
Tip 1: Power Down Hour
For starters, I recommend powering down your electronics at least one hour before bedtime. This may feel like a HUGE stretch for you, and it did for me too, but guess what? YOU HAVE DONE HARDER THINGS! I know you have. (Hmmmm… birthing and raising a child comes to mind.)
I suggest you pick up a new (mindless) book to distract yourself from the fact that you aren’t checking your email or scrolling before bed. This shouldn’t be a workbook, a parenting book, or a meal-prepping book.
Think romantic beach read or something trending with book clubs! This new (or new to you) book should be a paper version so that you aren’t closing your Kindle App every few pages to “just check Facebook real quick”.
Create a No Gadget Zone in Your Baby’s Evening Routine
External noise and sounds, however small or insignificant they may seem to adults, can seriously mess with your child's sleep cycle and cause long-term baby sleep problems.
Newborns and young babies are incredibly sensitive to things like screen lights, phones buzzing, and distant murmurs, perhaps caused by someone flicking through their Instagram stories.
Aim to reduce all unnecessary sources of stimulation from gadgets during your baby’s evening routine and you’ll be doing both of you a favor.
For more on how to create the right evening mood for your little one to help them relax and fall asleep, check out the useful Sleeping Baby blog: How to Help My Baby Sleep — The Perfect Evening Routine.
Tip 2: When You Are Up, Keep It Down
As for the wakeups that occur in the middle of the night when your baby can’t sleep or you need to feed your hungry toddler, be sure to keep the phone (and lights) down.
I know how tempting it can be to pick up your device during your middle-of-the-night cuddle session, but this will not only distract your sleepy little one, but it will stimulate your brain as well. It will be easiest to get back to sleep after the wake up (for all involved parties) if you keep the lights low and screens off.
Remember, there will be plenty of time tomorrow for social media and Netflix… keep the night time hours reserved for rest!
It will be easiest to get back to sleep after the wake up (for all involved parties) if you keep the lights low and screens off.
How Does Light Impact Our Brains?
The reason you and your baby can’t sleep as well as you’d like sometimes could be a direct impact of your daily light exposure. Not just from screens, but other light sources that might disrupt your brain’s ability to switch off.
To put it another way, when our brain registers light, it releases a hormone called cortisol, which gives our bodies a small boost of energy helping us to wake up. Some call this the ‘stress hormone’ as more cortisol is released when our bodies undertake strenuous tasks.
In short, when you or your baby can’t sleep, it may be because you’ve tricked the brain into thinking it’s time for action, from the high levels of screen time in the evening, stopping you from fully winding down.
Instead, aim to cut out all unnecessary light sources from your (and your baby’s) room and embrace fully dark, cave-like spaces when you sleep — it’s only natural!
Tip 3: Create A Sleep Sanctuary
According to a number of studies from around the world, stress from work, family life, or daily environments is a leading cause of insomnia and inability to sleep. For instance, one study found that in Japan, high occupational stresses and high effort-reward imbalance were closely connected with insomnia.
While you might not be able to change certain realities of your working situation, it becomes even more important to make your home life, and space where you rest at night, a relaxing and calming space. It should be free from distractions and things that induce anxiety or stress.
Also, your bedroom is, most likely, a place where you are doing a lot of your scrolling (either mindlessly or purposefully). We are going to change that and here's why...
In addition to causing extra stress depending on the type of scrolling done at bedtime, the blue light that is emitted from our devices (phones, tablets, TVs) has been shown in recent studies to inhibit the production of melatonin, as mentioned above. That darn phone is a stress inducer and a hormone inhibitor. It’s a powerful device, so get it out of your sleep sanctuary!
In order to minimize temptation from the addicting devices that seem to have a magnetic force, don’t charge your device(s) near your bedside. Consider setting up a “charging station” in your laundry room or home office to minimize the enticement that comes from having your device within reach.
You may be surprised how much a little physical distance can help. If your phone isn’t within an arm's length, you will be less likely to pick it up out of habit! And a few nights without it will start to create a new habit, which is what we are going for here.
In order to minimize temptation from the addicting devices that seem to have a magnetic force, don’t charge your device(s) near your bedside.
Tip 4: Turn Off Your Notifications
Take a few minutes to go into the settings on your device(s) and TURN OFF your notifications/alerts.
Here are a few of the "big hitters" that might be worth removing from your list:
- Social media (IG, FB, Twitter, Snapchat)
- Search apps (Google, Pinterest, Yahoo)
- Messaging (Texts, FB Messenger, WhatsApp)
And if you are feeling REALLY motivated (or needing some more restrictions to get started), try removing the most time-consuming apps from your phone or tablet and just use full-site mode when on your laptop or desktop.
This is one of those "out of sight, out of mind" exercises. If that little red alert isn't popping up so much, you will be MUCH LESS LIKELY to open the apps unnecessarily.
If you are wondering how this will help, don’t worry too much, I’ve gotcha covered. As a certified whole-family (including sleepy parents just like you) sleep consultant, I’ve checked into the psychology and biology behind device addiction and how notifications actually impact the dopamine production in our brain, but I won't bore you with that science... #nerdalert.
The bottom line is that turning off your notifications puts you back in control of your device use. You get on it when you want it, rather than anytime something dings (sending a signal to your brain that you NEED IT).
Remove The Reasons Your Baby Can’t Sleep
One of the biggest benefits of this whole exercise, in addition to reducing your stress levels and reliance on your devices for comfort and reward, is that you’re seriously reducing the chances of your child developing baby sleep problems as a result of unimpeded device usage.
If you’re able to set a good example, you’re not only limiting the impact of bright lights and buzzing sounds on your baby’s sleeping abilities, but you’re also teaching them that when they grow up, they can do without their digital devices, just as well as you can!
If you’ve already cut down on your screen time and are still having trouble getting your little one to sleep, try taking a look at Sleeping Baby’s blog: My Baby’s Not Sleeping: 10 Reasons Why.
You might also find it useful browsing smart swaddle and swaddle transition products that can help give your little one the comfort and flexibility they need at night for better sleep.
You’ve Got This!
Making change is hard, but with these tips, better sleep (and less screen time) is definitely within your reach! Making these small changes will allow you to feel more rested and less absorbed by the addictive little devices that we all love so much.
Brittney Stefanic is a certified whole-family sleep consultant working with ages newborn through adult. She knows from personal experience that screen time can have a very negative impact on sleep! As an educator, Brittney believes in the power of teaching and loves supporting families in meeting their sleep goals through her customized sleep plans. You can follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook @brittneystefanicsleep for access to her free sleep tips and tricks and opportunities for sleep virtual Q&A sessions.
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