In order to get a good night’s sleep the body must relax and unwind before going to bed, in order to calm the mind and prepare for sleep. Adults are more mindful of this necessity to unwind before bed time. Children and teens are more apt to continue using electronic devices right up until bedtime and sometimes while lying in bed at night. This is very concerning as children’s brains are still in the developmental stage, thus proper sleep is crucial for brain development and health. Studies have proven that bright lights from electronic devices can cause shifts in the body’s sleep/wake cycles; thus, producing melatonin at the wrong time of day (essentially producing it late at night because the mind interprets the bright lights of the electronic devices as being day time).
Quality of and number of hours of sleep is crucial for wakefulness, attention, and memory, as well as energy levels and managing stress. It is much more difficult for children and teens to realize or even comprehend that without the proper amount of sleep (8-9 hours), their attentiveness the following day, along with their energy levels and how well they deal with stress is going to be great impacted. Moreover, teens are new drivers, thus a teen driving while slightly drowsy is very dangerous to the teen driver, pedestrians, as well as other motorists. The quality of sleep is also very important.
Scientists at UT Southwestern published a sleep study in the journal PNAS (Chang et al., 2015, link below) showing that people who read from electronic device readers late at night had a 50% reduction in their melatonin production (a hormone important for sleep) compared to the people who read from books. To further study this comparison, the investigators then switched the two groups – changing the book readers to e-readers and the e-readers to paper book reading. Again, they found approximately 50% reduction in melatonin for people reading from electronic devices late at night, and a 1.5 hour shift in circadian rhythms. The e-readers reported more tiredness the following day as compared to the paperback book readers. This is quite compelling evidence of how technology is affecting our quality of sleep.
Additionally, electronic devices capture our attention and keep our brain active. This makes it more difficult to fall asleep and more difficult to get deep sleep, if a person is checking their phone for messages all night long. Moreover, the buzzing and beeping from cell phone notifications and devices throughout the night is very disruptive to sleep. Children, teens, and even adults can be ‘jarred’ out of sleep by sounds coming from cell phones, often unnecessary messages.
One study found that teenagers who texted more than 30 minutes after turning the lights off for bed had poorer grades and were felt more tired the next day compared to teens who used their cell phone less than 30 minutes at bedtime (Grover et al., J. Child Neurology, 2016, link below). While technology has captured the attention of our children and teens, parents need to grasp the awareness of how these devices might be negatively affecting our childrens/teens’ sleep, thus, ultimately affecting their academic performance and overall health.
More studies need to be conducted to determine: 1) whether all electronic devices have this effect (cell phones, televisions, laptops/computers, tablets, e-readers. MP3 players, video games), 2) whether the distance from the eyes plays a role, 3) if dimming the brightness on the device helps reduce the impact on sleep quality, and 4) if getting more sunlight earlier in the day time helps combat the effect of tech devices late at night and the shift in circadian rhythms. However, the studies mentioned above (along with other published studies) are quite compelling about the negative impact on sleep from using tech devices late at night, for both children/teens and adults.
Therefore, having children/teens put away all electronic devices at least 30 minutes (preferably an hour) before bedtime will promote restful sleep, health, and more energy and attention for tomorrow. Charging the tech devices for the entire family on the bathroom counters, or another room aside from the bedrooms, allows parents to control what time the children/teens must put their devices into the chargers at night, reduces blinking lights and sounds from electronic devices in the bedrooms (which are known to disrupt sleep), and allows the parents to set a good example for their children/teens by doing the same with their cell phones. Remember to unplug, unwind, and prepare for sleep in order to get a more restful night’s sleep.