Cell phones and screens are keeping your kid awake

These days, teachers often have to deal with yawning kids who stayed up late taking pictures or playing video games online.

New study shows that kids and teens who use cell phones, tablets, and computers at night are more likely to lose sleep time and sleep quality. A study released today in JAMA Pediatrics shows that kids are losing sleep and becoming more likely to be sleepy during the day, even if they don't use their phones or other tech-filled rooms at night.

“A consistent pattern of effect across a wide range of countries and settings,” said Dr. Ben Carter, who led the study and is a senior lecturer in biostatistics at King's College London.

Carter and his colleagues went through a lot of medical research to find hundreds of studies that were relevant and were done between January 1, 2011, and June 15, 2015. They picked 20 studies with a total of 125,198 kids, equally split between boys and girls and with an average age of 14½ years. Carter and his co-authors did their own meta-analysis after taking out the relevant data.

The team found a “strong and consistent association” between using a media device before bed and not getting enough sleep, having bad sleep, and being too sleepy during the day. This won't come as a surprise to parents.

Carter and his team were surprised to find that kids who didn't use their phones in bed still had trouble sleeping and were likely to have the same issues. Both the material itself and the lights and sounds that the technology makes may be too stimulating.

Even though Carter says that one weakness of the study was “how the data was collected in the primary studies: self-reported by parents and children,” the statistics are likely to show patterns in many of our own families' behavior.

In 2013, the National Sleep Foundation (PDF) did a large-scale poll in the United States and found that 89% of adults and 72% of children sleep with at least one device nearby. Same report found that most of this tech is used right before bed.

Carter and his co-authors say that this ubiquitous technology makes it harder for kids to fall asleep because it makes them stay up later to watch a movie or play one more game.

Researchers say that the light from these gadgets may also change the circadian rhythm, which is the body's internal clock that controls things like temperature and hormone release. There is a hormone called melatonin that makes us tired and helps control when we sleep and wake up. Electronic lights can make it take longer for melatonin to be released, which can mess up this cycle and make it harder to fall asleep.

Carter and his co-authors also say that kids and teens may stay awake for a long time after they turn off their devices and try to sleep because of the material they see online.

“Children need sleep,” said Dr. Sujay Kansagra, who runs the pediatric neurology sleep medicine program at Duke University Medical Center and wasn't involved in the new study. “We know that sleep is very important for brain development, memory, self-control, attention, immune health, heart health, and a lot more.”

Kansagra, who wrote “My Child Won't Sleep,” said that the first three years of life are when our brains grow the most, which is also when we need and get the most sleep. “It seems unlikely that this is just a coincidence.”

Kansagra said it's possible that parents didn't tell the truth when they said their kids were using electronics at night, but it's more likely that the technology is just making it harder to sleep. “Children who are allowed to keep electronics in their room might be less likely to stick to a good sleep schedule, which we know helps kids sleep,” he said.

The American Sleep Association's Dr. Neil Kline thinks that sleep is an important part of a child's healthy development, but “we don't know all of the science behind it.” A link has even been found between ADHD and some sleep problems in some studies.

The results of the new study are not a big surprise in many ways. Kline said, “Technology is having a big effect on sleep hygiene, especially in the teen years.” He said this based on study, his own “personal experience and also the anecdotes of many other sleep experts.”

Take part in the discussion

Check out the newest news and let CNN Health know what you think on Facebook and Twitter.

Having a quiet room is part of good sleep habits, which means following tips that help you get good, continuous, and enough sleep. “And that would mean getting rid of things that make it hard to sleep, like electronics, TV, and even pets if they make it hard to sleep,” Kline said.

The National Sleep Foundation says that you should have at least 30 minutes of “gadget-free transition time” before bed. This is another important tip. Turn off the computer to sleep better.

Other good sleep hygiene tips include not working out (physically or mentally) too close to bedtime, setting a regular sleep schedule, limiting light exposure before bed, staying away from stimulants like nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine in the hours before bed, and making your bedroom dark, comfortable, and quiet.


Mr. John A. Barnett is an experienced News Editor at DigitalKarate. He is skilled in the art of building tales that are compelling and in ensuring that reporting is accurate.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button