Middle schoolers who spend time on smartphones, laptops, and tablets in the hour before bed are likely to sleep poorly and be more tired the next day, a new study shows.
Researchers looked at the effects of screen time at bedtime among 345 12-to-14-year-olds over a six-month period.
They found that not only did spending time on media devices before going to bed disrupt sleep but that it had a “bidirectional” effect such that poor sleep led to more bedtime media use.
“So it creates this vicious cycle where engaging in bedtime media use can result in poor quality sleep, which over time fuels more bedtime media use” says Atika Khurana, an associate professor in the counseling psychology and human services department at the University of Oregon, who also serves as a research scientist at the Prevention Science Institute.
“Just having access to screen-based media devices in bedrooms has been associated with poor sleep quality and quantity among adolescents,” which over time can result in difficulties with attention control, says Heather Leonard, a doctoral student and lead author of the paper in Sleep Health.
Access to devices was pervasive, with nearly 3 out of 4 seventh- and eighth-graders taking part in the study reporting exclusive access to a smartphone.
“That’s pretty high for middle schoolers, but consistent with national trends,” Khurana says. “And it’s tricky for parents to navigate this because of peer pressure.”
“If parents are going to be on their phones in the bedroom, then it’s hard to convince children that they shouldn’t do that.”
Adolescents with access to media devices in the bedroom are more likely to engage in bedtime media use, which can have a negative impact on their sleep and health, the study finds. The time spent scrolling or texting takes the place of time that otherwise might have been spent sleeping.
Watching videos or playing games also might overstimulate young brains when they should be winding down, as does the devices’ blue light. During the day, students who reported bedtime media use experienced more sleepiness and struggled to maintain attention.
The National Sleep Foundation and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends eliminating screen time in the hour before going to bed. As for steps parents and guardians can take, Leonard says it helps to establish ground rules for logging on or using a phone and keeping media devices outside of bedrooms.
Restricting media access tends to work better with younger than older adolescents, Khurana says.
“I think in those younger years, you have a better chance as a parent to put down some ground rules and consistently enforce them,” Leonard says. “You have an opportunity to build good habits and establish healthy sleep hygiene early on that they’ll carry forward with them.”
Parents can also model healthy behaviors when it comes to using their smartphone or laptop, as well as sleep hygiene, the researchers say.
“If parents are going to be on their phones in the bedroom, then it’s hard to convince children that they shouldn’t do that,” Khurana says.
Sleep plays a critical role at that age. The potential long-term effects of poor sleep are wide ranging, contributing to conditions such as chronic inflammation and obesity, among others. Understanding how modern interactive forms of media can affect adolescent health and behavior is an important area of research, Khurana notes.
Source: Jim Murez for University of Oregon