Teenagers who snuggle up in bed with their computer or mobile phone are more than twice as likely to be sleep deprived than other adolescents, according to an Australian study.
The researchers tested the nocturnal digital habits of teenagers, aged 11 to 17, finding that up to half of them used a mobile in bed a few nights a week, while 39% did the same with their computer.
The web-based survey of about 11,500 young Australians by the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney has revealed for the first time the relationship between electronic devices and sleep patterns.
Teenagers who used their computers in bed almost every night of the week were 2.5 times more likely to have a short sleep on weekdays than teens who didn’t use the devices
Heavy cellphone users were affected too, with those who used them regularly in bed 2.5 times more likely to wake later in the weekends.
Nathaniel Marshall, Woolcock epidemiologist and leader of the study published in the journal PLOS ONE, says even just using these devices in bed a few times a week has a damaging effect.
“We know from other research that short sleeps and irregular sleep schedules can leave people feeling tired and low, and it can be detrimental to their physical health and ability to learn too,” Dr Marshall says.
The researchers say light emitted by computers, mobile phones and TVs is known to suppress the sleep hormone melatonin and delay sleep/wake patterns.
Computers and mobiles are also interactive, keeping the user alert and disrupting sleep by creating a learned association between the bed and wakefulness.
One potential driver could be FOMO – fear of missing out – which keeps people hooked up to the internet long after they should have gone to sleep.
“We suspect that many of these overtired kids are driven to stay up late texting, chatting and gaming with mates on their phone, computer or tablet just so they’re in the loop with what’s going on,” Dr Marshall says.
However, he cautions about only interpreting the results this way.
Instead of the devices causing the sleep troubles, it’s possible that the most hardcore device users are night owls who turn to their computers or phones to help fill in the time before they can fall asleep.
These may be the same type of kids who, a century ago, were up reading by candlelight until 2am, or 50 years ago were listening to AM radio.
There is some good news among the findings, Dr Marshall says.
“We found just having the stuff in your bedroom won’t ruin your sleep,” he says. “You have to be using it to be affected.”
Facts on teen sleep:
- Teenagers need nine hours sleep a night on average.
- They should aim for at least eight hours a night on weeknights
- 70% of teens get inadequate sleep but just 2% seek help for it from their doctor
- The three key sleep problems in adolescents are: inadequate sleep hours, delayed sleep
phasing and psychological insomnia
- Sleep deprivation has been linked to mood disorders, learning problems, drug and alcohol use, family problems, school absenteeism, poor self-esteem and weight gain