Cell phones, screens are keeping your kid awake

Teachers often face classrooms filled with students who stayed up late snapping selfies or playing online games.

New research shows that children who use devices in their bedrooms sleep less and have poorer quality sleep.

Even kids and teens who don't spend late on the internet are losing sleep


Teachers are often faced with classrooms full of yawning students, who have stayed up late playing video games or taking selfies.

New research shows that using cell phones, computers, and tablets at night can lead to a loss of sleep and sleep quality for children and teens. Even kids who don't have their phones, tablets or other technology in their bedroom at night can lose sleep and become prone to daytime sleepiness. This is according to a new analysis published by JAMA Pediatrics.

The analysis revealed "a consistent pattern across a variety of countries and settings," according to Dr. Ben Carter. He is a lecturer and lead author in biostatistics and senior researcher at King's College London.

Carter and his co-workers sifted through medical literature in order to find hundreds of studies that were applicable, conducted between January 1, 2011 and June 15, 2015. The researchers selected 20 research reports that involved a total of 125,198 children evenly distributed by gender and with an age average of 14 1/2. Carter and his coauthors conducted their own meta-analysis after extracting relevant data.

Few parents are likely to be surprised by these results. The team discovered a "strong, consistent association" between the use of media devices at bedtime and insufficient sleep quantity, poor quality sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness.

Carter and his team were surprised to discover that even children who didn't use their devices at night still experienced sleep disturbances and the same issues. It is possible that the lights and noises emitted from the technology as well as its content are too stimulating.

Carter acknowledges that the weakness of his analysis is "the way the data were collected in the primary study: self-reported parents and children," but many of us can recognize their own family's habits in the statistics.

In 2013, a large-scale survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation in the United States (PDF) found that 89% of teens and 72% of children have at least one sleep device. The same report revealed that most of the technology used by children and teens is near bedtime.

Carter and his colleagues claim that this ubiquitous technology affects children's sleep negatively by delaying sleep time as they watch a movie or finish playing a game.

Researchers explain that the light emitted by these devices could also affect the circadian clock, which is the internal clock that regulates biological processes such as body temperature and hormone releases. Melatonin is a hormone that induces fatigue and helps to regulate our sleep-wake cycle. Electronic lights can disrupt the sleep-wake cycle by delaying melatonin release.

Carter and his colleagues also suggest that the online content can be psychologically stimulating, keeping children and teenagers awake well past the time when they try to go to bed.

Sleep is essential for children, said Dr. Sujay KANSAGRA, director of Duke University Medical Center's pediatric neurology sleep program. He was not involved with the new analysis. Sleep is essential for brain development, memory and self-regulation. It also affects attention, immune system, cardiovascular health, and more.

Kansagra is the author of the book "My Child Won’t Sleep." He noted that our brains develop the most in the first three years of our lives, when we also need the most sleep. It's difficult to believe this is a coincidence.

Kansagra believes that it is possible for parents to have underreported their children's use of devices at night. However, more likely the technology interferes with good sleep hygiene. He said that children who have devices in their rooms are more likely to not follow a sleep routine.

Dr. Neil Kline is a representative from the American Sleep Association. He agrees that sleeping plays a vital role in the healthy development of a child, although "we do not know the full science behind it." Some research has shown an association between ADHD, sleep disorders and certain sleep disorders.

The findings of this new study were not surprising in many ways. Kline said that technology is having a significant impact on sleep hygiene, particularly in teens. He bases his opinion on both research and his "personal experience" as well as the "anecdotes from many other experts."

A room that's quiet is a good way to practice sleep hygiene, which includes tips for facilitating good, uninterrupted and adequate rest. Kline explained that this would include removing any items that could interfere with your sleep. This includes electronics, televisions, and pets.

The National Sleep Foundation offers another important tip, recommending at least 30 minutes "gadget free transition time" prior to bedtime. Turn off the power for better sleep.

The other recommendations for good sleeping hygiene are to avoid exercising (physically or psychologically) too close before bedtime, to establish a regular schedule, to limit exposure to light in the hours prior to sleep, to avoid stimulants like alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, and to create a dark and comfortable sleep environment.