Teens Need to Disconnect from Tech for Better Sleep

Posted 12/14/2016 | By HealthCorps

Today’s teens are sleeping far less than kids in previous generations.  Sleep quality is also poor, and many teens report daytime sleepiness, which has also been noted by parents and teachers.  What’s going on beyond normal teen “poor sleep habits?” Electronic media and tech devices are clear culprits in the shorter, poor sleep patterns of teens.

Yes, kids did talk on the phone late into the night in past generations.  But teens today have multiple distractions thanks to illuminated phones that can accompany them to bed and the non-stop social connectivity that tech devices provide.  That includes taking selfies, text messaging and video-gaming which all start when they wake up and extend into the late night hours.  Bedtime is not time to disconnect, seems to be the message experts extrapolate from current teen behaviors.

Researchers decided to explore the connection between teen time spent on electronic device use including video games, TVs, and cell phones and the amount of sleep teens are getting, on average.  More than 1200 students ages fourteen to sixteen filled out questionnaires between 2008-2009, answering questions about how often they use electronics (including TV viewing time), how often they engaged in other sedentary habits (reading, homework, talking on the phone).  Teens also indicated the time they would go to sleep nightly, wake up times daily, and sleep and wake habits on the weekend.

Findings included:

  • Kids who used computers and played video games for more than two hours daily slept on average 11-17 minutes less than counterparts who used less screen time.  
  • One in three teens used computers for more than two hours a day and they were more than twice as likely to sleep less than a full eight hours at night
  • Talking on the phone at least two hours daily was associated with falling short of eight hours of sleep nightly
  • Watching TV for more than two hours daily was associated with shorter night sleep intervals
  • Using the computer or talking on the phone for more than two hours daily was associated with more daytime sleepiness compared to kids who had less computer and phone time.
  • Teens with sedentary habits other than TV watching (like reading) did not seem to get less sleep.

Experts know that teens need quality hours of sleep with adequate duration (eight to nine hours) for optimal growth.  Inadequate sleep also raises risk of depression, lack of focus, inability to be attentive, and lack of sleep is associated with weight gain.  With obesity rates already high among children and teens, getting a good night’s sleep becomes an even more crucial and important habit.  Sleep habits are a component of a healthy lifestyle.

Parents need to be role models, showing their kids that there is an appropriate time, before going to sleep, to disconnect from all electronics.  Having daily limits on TV viewing time and especially video-gaming and smartphone time is also crucial, based on research findings.  Families need to set sleep standards and really stick to them.  Talk to your child, from a young age, about the importance of sleep.  And though night time use of tech devices and TV time are especially problematic, it’s also important to consider the cumulative hours of electronic device use during the day and the impact on teen sleep.

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