The analysis revealed “a consistent pattern of effect across a wide range of countries and settings,” the doctor said. Ben Carter is lead author and senior lecturer in biostatistics at King’s College London.
Carter and colleagues reviewed the medical literature to find hundreds of applicable studies conducted between January 1, 2011 and June 15, 2015. 14½ years old. After extracting relevant data, Carter and his co-authors conducted their own meta-analysis.
Few parents will be surprised by the results: The team found a “strong and persistent association” between media use before bed and insufficient sleep, poor sleep quality and excessive daytime sleepiness.
Surprisingly, Carter and his team found that children who didn’t use their devices in their bedrooms still had interrupted sleep and likely had the same problems. The lights and sounds emitted by the technology, as well as the content itself, can be too stimulating.
While Carter admits that the weakness of the analysis was “how the data was collected in the primary studies: parent-child self-reports,” many of us are likely to recognize our own families’ habits as reflected in the statistics.
According to Carter and his co-authors, this ubiquitous technology is negatively affecting children’s sleep by delaying their sleep time when they finish watching a movie or playing a game.
The researchers explain that the light emitted by these devices can also affect the circadian rhythm, the internal clock that synchronizes biological processes, including body temperature and hormone release. One specific hormone, melatonin, causes fatigue and affects the timing of our sleep and wake cycles. Electronic lighting can delay melatonin production, disrupting this cycle and making 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 vital for children,” the doctor said. Sujay Kansagra, director of the pediatric sleep medicine neurology program at Duke University Medical Center, who was not involved in the new analysis. “We know that sleep plays a critical role in brain development, memory, self-regulation, attention, immune function, cardiovascular health, and more.”
Kansagra said it’s possible that parents are underreporting the number of kids using devices at night, but it’s more likely that the technology is simply interfering with sleep hygiene. “For example, kids who are allowed to keep devices in their room are more likely to avoid a good sleep routine, which we know is good for sleep,” he said.
Practice good sleep hygiene
Dr. Neil Kline of the American Sleep Association agrees that sleep plays an integral role in a child’s healthy development, even though “we don’t know all the science behind it. There are even some studies demonstrating a link between ADHD and certain sleep disorders.”
In many ways, the results of the new study are not surprising. “Technology has a significant impact on sleep hygiene, especially in adolescence,” said Kline, who bases his opinion not only on research but also on his own “personal experience, as well as stories from many other sleep experts.”
Other recommendations for good sleep hygiene include avoiding exercise (physical or mental) before bed; establishing a regular sleep schedule; limit exposure to light before bed; avoid stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine and nicotine a few hours before bedtime; and creating a dark, comfortable and peaceful sleeping environment.