Highlights of history
Units in the bedroom are associated with children losing sleep time and quality, new research says
Even children and teens who do not stay up late online lose sleep
These days, teachers are often faced with classrooms filled with yawning students who got up late and snatched selfies or played online games.
For children and teens, using cell phones, tablets and computers at night is associated with loss of sleep time and sleep quality, new research shows. Even children who do not use their phones or the other technologies lying in their bedrooms at night lose their eyes and become prone to falling asleep in daylight, the analysis published today in JAMA Pediatrics shows.
The analysis found “a consistent effect pattern across a wide range of countries and settings,” said Dr. Ben Carter, lead author and senior lecturer in biostatistics at King’s College London.
Carter and his colleagues weeded through the medical literature to identify hundreds of relevant studies conducted between January 1, 2011 and June 15, 2015. They selected 20 research reports involving a total of 125,198 children, evenly by gender, with a mean age of 14½ year. After extracting relevant data, Carter and his co-authors performed their own meta-analysis.
Few parents will be surprised by the results: The team found a “strong and consistent correlation” between media use at bedtime and insufficient sleep, poor sleep quality and excessive daytime sleepiness.
Surprisingly, however, Carter and his team discovered that children who did not use their devices in their bedrooms still got their sleep interrupted and were likely to suffer from the same problems. The lights and sounds emitted by the technology, as well as the content itself, can be too stimulating.
Although Carter admits that one weakness of the analysis was “how the data were collected in the primary surveys: self-reported by parents and children,” many of us are likely to recognize our own family’s habits reflected in the statistics.
A large-scale poll conducted in the United States by the National Sleep Foundation (PDF) reported in 2013 that 72% of all children and 89% of teens have at least one unit in their sleep environment. Most of this technology is used near bedtime, found the same report.
According to Carter and his co-authors, this ubiquitous technology negatively affects children’s sleep by delaying their sleep time when they finish watching a movie or playing another game.
Light emitted from these devices can also affect the circadian rhythm, the biological clock’s timing biological processes, including body temperature and hormone release, the researchers explain. A specific hormone, melatonin, induces fatigue and contributes to the timing of our sleep-wake cycles. Electronic lights can delay the release of melatonin, disrupt this cycle and make it harder to fall asleep.
Carter and his co-authors also suggest that online content can be psychologically stimulating and keep children and teens awake well beyond the hour they turn off their devices and try to sleep.
“Sleep is essential for children,” said Dr. Sujay Kansagra, director of the Pediatric Neurological Sleep Medicine Program at Duke University Medical Center, who was not involved in the new analysis. “We know that sleep plays a vital role in brain development, memory, self-regulation, attention, immune function, cardiovascular health and more.”
Kansagra, author of “My Child Will Not Sleep,” noted that the period of greatest brain development is in our first three years of life, which is similar to when we need and get the most sleep. “It’s hard to believe this would be a coincidence.”
Kansagra said it is possible that parents underreport children who used devices at night, but more likely the technology simply disrupts sleep hygiene. “For example, children who are allowed to store devices in their room may be more likely to avoid a good sleep routine that we know is helpful for sleep,” he said.
Dr. Neil Kline, a representative of the American Sleep Association, agrees that sleep plays an integral role in a child’s healthy development, even though “we do not know all the science behind it. There is even some research that shows a link between ADHD and some sleep disorders. ”
In many respects, the results of the new study are no surprise. “Sleep hygiene is significantly influenced by technology, especially in adolescence,” said Kline, who bases not only his opinion on research but on his own “personal experience and also anecdotes from many other sleep experts.”
Follow CNN Health on Facebook and Twitter
Sleep hygiene – tips that help facilitate a good, continuous and adequate sleep – include having a room that is quiet. “And that would mean removing things that interfere with sleep, including electronics, television, and even pets, if they interfere with sleep,” Kline said.
Another important tip comes from the National Sleep Foundation, which recommends at least 30 minutes of “gadget-free transition time” before bedtime. Turn off for better sleep.
Other recommendations for good sleep hygiene do not include exercising (physically or mentally) too close to bedtime; establishing a regular sleep plan; limiting exposure to light before sleep; avoid stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine and nicotine in the hours before bedtime; and create a dark, comfortable and peaceful sleeping environment.