Michele Ybarra MPH, Ph.D.

Connected

Technology and Sleep

Screen time may be one cause of teens' fractured sleep.

Posted Apr 19, 2019

Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

Sleep keeps both our bodies and our minds healthy. Research suggests that this is especially true for teens, who need at least 8 hours and sometimes even 10 hours a night. [1] Teenagers need more sleep because of the physical and emotional development that happens during adolescence. In fact, if teens don’t get enough shut-eye, they often have problems concentrating, feel depressed, are slower to react physically, make poor decisions, their memory does not work as well, and they can be moody. [1, 2] Behavior problems, which can make it harder to do well in school, sometimes is also due to a lack of sleep. [2]

It may not come as a surprise that many teens are not getting enough sleep. [2] Studies find that over half of middle school students and almost three out of four high school students are sleeping less than 8 hours a night. [7] About three in five high schoolers are sleeping six or fewer hours a night on school nights, resulting in severe sleep deprivation. [7]

While there are a lot of reasons why teens are not getting enough z’s, one big culprit is the amount of time they are spending in front of screens. [3] Research suggests that youths who watch TV or play video games at bedtime get roughly 30 minutes less sleep than other kids. [4] Youths who use their cell phone or computer at bedtime are even worse off, getting about one hour less sleep. [4] It doesn’t stop at bedtime either—youths who use electronic media before bed are more likely to use it in the middle of the night. [4] In fact, one study found that one in four teens almost never turn their phones off at bedtime and a similar number are woken up by their phones in the middle of the night. [5]

There are several things we can do to help our teens—and ourselves—get a better night’s sleep. The most important thing to do is to put down the screens in the final hours before bedtime. [6] This means that everyone in the household—including parents—needs to have screen-free time. We need to show our kids that we are not telling them to do something we are unwilling or unable to do ourselves. Families can also designate a charging area outside of the bedrooms where everyone’s devices recharge overnight. At night, consider dimming screens or using blue light, if it’s an option, because it is better for our eyes and less disruptive on our wake-sleep cycles. We can also slowly dim the lights around the house throughout the evening, signaling to everyone’s brains that it’s time to put away their screens and slow down for the night. [7]

Technology has a lot of benefits, including connecting youth to important information for homework and also a strong social network. That doesn’t mean we can’t put our devices away each night—for everyone’s sleep.

Thank you to Desirée Fehmie and Emily Goldstein for your contributions to this blog.

References

[1] Department of Health & Human Services. (2018). Teenagers and Sleep.

[2] CDC. (2018). Sleep and Health.

[3] Hale, L., & Guan, S. (2015). Screen Time and Sleep Among School-Aged Children and Adolescents.

Sleep Medicine Reviews, 21, 50-58.

[4] Fuller, C., Lehman, E., Hicks, S., & Novick, M. (2017). Bedtime Use of Technology and Associated

Sleep Problems in Children. Global Pediatric Health, 4.

[5] Twenge, J., & Campbell, W. K. (2018). Associations Between Screen Time and Lower Psychological

Well-Being Among Children and Adolescents: Evidence from a Population-Based Study. Preventive Medicine Reports, 12, 271-283.

[6] Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development. (2017). Sleep Findings.

[7] Child Mind Institute. How to Help Teenagers Get More Sleep. Retrieved from https://childmind.org/article/help-teenagers-get-sleep/