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  • Writer's pictureAndy Anderson

How much sleep, physical activity, and recreational screen time is right for your child?

Updated: Jun 26, 2022

Many parents express concern about the effects of recreational screen time on children and adolescents. How much is too much? Typically, experts recommend less than two hours of recreational screen time per day. However, one size rarely fits all.

Youth Counseling Center and Family Counseling Center

As you will see, sleep quality and physical activity are essential variables in determining the level of recreational screen time that can potentially harm a child or adolescent's physical/mental health, emotional well-being, behavior, and academic performance.

This article will provide parents with recommended time guidelines for sleep, physical activity, and recreational screen time. Second, you will read how following two of three recommended guidelines can moderate the adverse effects of the remaining variable. Third, you will read how poor sleep quality on its own adversely affects your child. Finally, we will examine how sleep health, physical activity, and recreational screen time affect academic performance and help prevent school failure.

Sleep, Physical Activity, and Recreational Screen Time Guidelines


Ages 5-13*



9-11 hours

8-10 hours

Moderate to vigorous physical activity



Recreational Screen Time

Less than 2 hours

Less than 2 hours

* Guidelines only. Use reasonable flexibility reasonable flexibility


Asking about the recommended recreational screen time for children and adolescents misses a big piece of the equation. Children and teens who follow two of the three guidelines listed in the table above function better than those who follow one or none of the guidelines.

For example, excessive recreational screen time may have fewer negative long-term consequences when children practice high-quality sleep health and get enough physical activity. Good quality sleep and moderate to vigorous physical exercise may counterbalance the adverse effects of excessive recreational screen time. Therefore, too much gaming may not adversely affect a child's physical and mental health if the child meets physical activity and sleep guidelines.

The sleep variable adversely affects children and teens on its own. Poor sleep quality predicted increased anxiety and depression one year after sleep problems began. After two years of poor-quality sleep, low self-esteem and behavior problems emerged. In a different study, teens who routinely practice poor sleep health may experience irrational thinking, increased drowsiness, and fatigue.

Irregular sleep patterns may be more problematic than sleeping less than recommended. Brain scans found that teens who regularly sleep in on non-school days show abnormalities in the emotional regulation region of the brain. In addition to the relationship to emotional regulation, irregular sleep patterns cause more significant drowsiness and may lead to other psychological disorders.


Effects of sleep, physical activity, and recreational screen time on academic performance

Sleep, physical activity, and recreational screen time affect academic performance interactively. Poor quality sleep and physical activity have no impact on school achievement. However, irregular sleep patterns do lower the likelihood of school success. Too much recreational screen time resulted in lower school performance. However, adequate amounts of moderate to vigorous physical activity may moderate the adverse academic effects of irregular sleep patterns.


Effects on Academic Achievement

Poor sleep quality

No effect

Physical activity

No effect*

Irregular Sleep Patterns

Negative effect

Excessive recreational screen time

Negative effect

Moderate to vigorous physical activity

Moderates the Negative effects of excessive screen time*


In conclusion, parents should be concerned about how much time their child spends gaming, watching YouTube videos, and using other technological devices. Excessive recreational screen time does harm children and adolescents, as suspected even when the content is age-appropriate. However, when sleep quality and physical activity are adequate, screen time limits could merit more flexibility.

After all, there aren't that many hours left to game on school days if your child sleeps 11 hours, attends school for 8 hours, completes assigned chores, eats with the family, and spends one hour doing homework.

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