Is too much screen time affecting your child’s sleep?

Psychologist Sara O’Doherty: Social media can keep going through the night


Too much screen time is leading to a serious lack of sleep among children and teenagers, a leading psychologist says.

“Mobile phones in particular are really interfering with children’s sleep,” said clinical psychologist Sara O’Doherty. “There are endless amounts of data and information coming into them, through social media.”

She said: “It’s not like the good old days, when you watched television, turned it off and then went to bed.”

Now, she says, children bring their phones to bed, and “social media can keep going through the night,” with children regularly checking their phones.

O’Doherty, who also writes parenting columns in the Irish Times, says lack of sleep among children is becoming a very common issue in her clinics.

It is recommended children get around nine hours sleep per night to function properly.

She says many children are finding it difficult to focus in school or are falling asleep in class because of lack of sleep. “Children need quality sleep and many may get nine hours a night during the week but are allowed stay up much later at the weekends, often then not getting up until midday.”

According to O’Doherty, research has shown that such sleep is not quality sleep and leads to a form of jetlag.

The issue of how much screen time a child should have is an obvious bone of contention.

She advises parents to manage children’s screen time. For a start, she says, children should not have a television in their bedrooms, although many parents consider a television the norm. Nor should they necessarily bring their phones to bed. “Screen time should be a reward, rather than something you are entitled to all the time.”

What do you do if your child refuses to give you their phone?

O’Doherty says you could suggest not paying their phone bills the next time or saying: “I am going away to think about this and will have some worse suggestion when I come back!” (Of course, you do need to have a suggestion, if you say this).

O’Doherty says much of parenting is about yourself. Many parenting programmes blame the behaviour of the child, “but so much of parenting is about you, what you do, how you act”.

She says you have to be self-aware when bringing up children. “You can avoid a lot of problems by working with the child on an every day level.”

However, O’Doherty readily points out that parenting is hard work. “It’s 95 per cent graft, you can’t pull some tool off the shelf to fix it and make it work.”

*Sara O’Doherty will be giving a free talk in the Sheraton Hotel Athlone onWednesday, October 14th, at 7pm. The talk is part of the Irish Times/Pfizer Healthy Town project, and admission is free.