What May Be Keeping Your Teen up at Night

Sleep quality in teens may decrease with electronic device use

(RxWiki News) For many teens, it's second nature to reach for the smartphone or tablet when they have a spare minute or two. Those spare minutes can add up, though, and may affect teens' sleep quality.

A new study found that the amount of time teens spend looking at the screens of electronic devices may reduce the quality of their sleep.

Hannah Chow-Johnson, MD, a pediatrician at Loyola University Health System and assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, told dailyRx News that this study "reinforces how technology, while so beneficial in many ways, must also need monitoring when used by teens and children. Many parents don't realize how prominent a role electronics play in their children's lives until asked about how much time their child spends on electronics."

Dr. Chow-Johnson offered some tips to parents for limiting the amount of time their children use screens.

"A child's brain is still growing and maturing, and because their frontal lobes are still immature, their judgment will not always be the best. Parents still need to oversea and monitor usage of technology," she said.

"Take away/lock away cells and portable devices at night," Dr. Chow-Johnson recommended. "Sometimes that's the last resort for kids who can't shut down. Also, simply keep track of how much time he's spending on electronics. Set times for when it's fine to use electronics recreationally, and enforce them. Keep computers in plain view (like in the office) and check in and see what your child is doing. Encourage children to get involved in activities at school, read and go outside."

Mari Hysing, PhD, of the Regional Centre for Child and Youth Mental Health and Child Welfare in Bergen, Norway, led this study.

"The current recommendation is not to have a TV in the bedroom," Dr. Hysing and team wrote. "It seems, however, that there may be other electronic devices exerting the same negative influence on sleep, such as PCs and mobile phones."

Dr. Hysing and team studied nearly 10,000 patients aged 16 to 19 from the Norwegian youth@hordaland study.

These patients answered questions about their weekday or weekend sleep routine. This included the times at which they went to bed and awoke, how many hours of sleep they needed to feel rested and how long it took them to fall asleep.

These patients were also asked how many hours they spent using electronic devices and what activities they used them for.

Dr. Hysing and team found that patients logged an average of six to seven hours of screen time daily. Almost all of these patients used a device within one hour of bedtime.

Patients who used a device within one hour of bedtime had a higher risk of increased sleep onset latency. Sleep onset latency occurs when a patient takes more than an hour to fall asleep. The strongest risk factors for this condition were computer use, cellphone use and MP3 player use.

Patients who logged more than four hours of daily screen use had a 49 percent higher risk of sleep onset latency than those who did not use their devices that much.

Dr. Hysing and team found that using an electronic device within an hour of bedtime also increased the risk of patients getting less than five hours of sleep. Patients who used a computer within an hour of bedtime were nearly three times more likely to get less than five hours of sleep.

Screen time may replace sleeping time or may stimulate the nervous system to affect sleep, these researchers suggested. The light that comes from electronic devices may also negatively affect patients' internal clocks.

Dr. Hysing and team called for new guidelines on teen screen time.

"The recommendations for healthy media use given to parents and adolescents need updating, and age specific guidelines regarding the quality and timing of electronic media use should be developed," Dr. Hysing and colleagues wrote.

The study was published online Feb. 2 in the journal BMJ Open.

Awards from Uni Research Health and the Norwegian Directorate for Health and Social Affairs funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
February 1, 2015