How cellphones impact teens’ sleep

cellphones impact teens’ sleep

That groggy teen you see every morning may have spent a good portion of what is supposed to be his or her sleeping hours playing video games, watching YouTube or texting friends. The lure of never ending sources of media content and social messaging has put a damper on down time. At the time of day when the mind needs to quiet down and allow the body to enter sleep mode, kids are stimulating their minds with a plethora of electronic entertainment on their smartphones.

A poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation revealed a pervasive use of cellphones in the hour before bed, as well as after retiring. Teens will often literally sleep with their phones, continuing contact through the night as texts buzz through their pillows and continually disrupt their sleep. This poll specifically studied the association between American’s use of digital technologies and sleep patterns. According to David Cloud, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation, “While these technologies are commonplace, it is clear that we have a lot more to learn about the appropriate use and design of this technology to complement good sleep habits.”

The poll revealed that 55 percent of teens aged 13-18 surf the Internet nightly within the hour before sleep. Fifty-six percent of this age bracket sends, reads or receives text messages almost every night in the hour before sleep; 22 percent of teens polled rated themselves as “sleepy,” using a standard assessment tool, and averaged seven and a half hours of sleep per night, about an hour and a half less than what is recommended for this age group.

A whopping 97 percent of teens have at least one electronic device in their bedrooms, such as a television, computer, iPad or cellphone. The poll found that teens who had multiple devices in their bedrooms were twice as likely to fall asleep at school or while doing homework. In addition to their studies being affected, the National Traffic Safety Administration reports that drowsy driving leads to 100,000 police-reported collisions, 71,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths per year.

Mental health is also affected by a lack of sound sleep. A lack of alertness in school may lead authorities to wrongly assume the student suffers from a learning disability. If the teen suffers from a mood disorder such as depression or anxiety, sleep deprivation can exacerbate the condition.

Cellphone distractions also affect genders in different ways. Girls tend to spend after hours texting with friends and boys gravitate toward surfing the net and playing games.

“Artificial light exposure between dusk and the time we go to bed at night suppresses release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, enhances alertness and shifts circadian rhythms to a later hour—making it more difficult to fall asleep,” said Charles Czeisler, Ph.D., M.D., Harvard Medical School. “This study reveals that light-emitting screens are in heavy use within the pivotal hour before sleep. Invasion of such alerting technologies into the bedroom may contribute to the high proportion of respondents who reported that they routinely get less sleep than they need.”

The nature of the technology being used is also important. Where watching television and listening to music are passive activities, gaming and texting are interactive and affect the brain differently.  Michael Gradisar, Ph.D. at Flinders University in Australia stated, “The hypothesis is that the latter devices are more alerting and disrupt the sleep-onset process.”

The overwhelming majority of teens who sleep with their cellphones on report that they want to maintain connectedness with their peers. This sort of 24/7 on call availability can ultimately jeopardize physical and emotional health, as well as cognitive function.

Parents have the responsibility to see that their children are getting sufficient sleep in order to succeed in school and maintain good health. Ultimately, parents have to set guidelines for bedtime and be consistent in imposing the restrictions.

White River Academy, places an emphasis on character development in adolescent males with behavioral issues, offering life skills classes and community service oriented programs to instill qualities that lead to a productive and successful life post-recovery. For questions about White River Academy, please call 866-520-0905.

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