What’s done in the dark: Study says bedtime texting is slowing teens down


A Rutgers University study demonstrates instant messaging in the dark causes sleep problems, daytime sleepiness and worsened academic performance.

The study

Study author Xue Ming is a professor of neuroscience and neurology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. She has seen plenty of research on electronics, blue light and sleep but said she wanted to focus on how messaging alone – particularly after the lights are out – influences sleep issues and academic performance.

Ming surveyed more than 1,500 responses comparing grades, gender, messaging duration and whether the texting occurred before or after lights out. Participants were from both urban and suburban high schools.

She found that students who powered down their devices or who texted for less than half an hour after lights out did significantly better in school than others who messaged for more than 30 minutes in the dark.

Students who texted longer in the dark also slept fewer hours and were sleepier during the day. Interestingly, instant messaging before bed did not adversely affect academic performance, the study revealed.

Danger: blue light special

Harvard Health publications note not all colors have detrimental effects. It details while energy-efficient blue wavelengths – which are the norm in electronics – “boost attention, reaction times, and mood— [they] seem to be the most disruptive at night.”

Ming adds blue light emissions are intensified in darkness. She informs this short wavelength light can have a lasting impact on daytime sleepiness because it can postpone the release of melatonin. Simply put, melatonin, which helps people fall asleep, will overlap a student’s waking hours instead.

Harvard Health qualifies that although it is not known why blue light is so unhealthy in the dark, several studies correlate the wavelength to breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

“Sleep is not a luxury; it’s a biological necessity,” warns Ming.


There are a wide range of apps that promise blue light filters and synchronization with your local sunrise and sunset to mitigate sleep-cycle damages. Options are available on Apple and Windows products, androids and Linux systems.

The Circadian Sleep Disorders Network has many suggestions in addition to the filter apps, including:

  • Red and amber LEDs
  • Blue-blocking glasses
  • Red or amber filter screen protectors for any device

White River Academy has a long track record of working with teens who have a number of different addictions, disorders and life challenges. We keep our dedicated staff and students’ loved ones informed on the latest in behavioral health news. WRA provides a safe haven and positive peer culture with our therapeutic residential treatment to better their lives as they take the path to adulthood. Meetings with parents are scheduled seasonally so that you can inventory the progress your young man is making.

About the author

Kristin Currin is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30s-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; editing, radio production and on-camera reporting.

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