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Lights out – is electronic media affecting teenager’s sleep?
Go into any young person’s bedroom now-a-days and you will find an assortment of electronic media scattered around the room. Many of these devises will be in operation simultaneously; the computer is on, the internet is connected, the iPod is playing, messages are being sent and received via the mobile phone and the TV is quietly playing away, just in case anyone glances over at it.
From their rooms teenagers are connected not only to friends but also to global networks through internet access, from the central hub of their bedrooms they conduct their social life, often well into the night.
A recent study “Electronic Media use and sleep in school-aged children and adolescents: a review” published in the journal Sleep Medicine by sleep medicine researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide has concluded that young people who have access to electronic media such as televisions, computers, internet, games and mobile phones in their bedrooms are putting their behavioral development at risk.
The research showed that the main reason for this seems to be because of the lack of sleep they get due to the fact that they continue to use these devises even after ‘lights out’. For some children this can delay sleep time by several hours, usually without their parent’s knowledge. Much of the action begins after 9pm and this means a shorter total sleep time. New media has now been linked to reduced time in bed and to sleep disturbances.
Dr Michael Gradisar, of Flinders University, noted that recent comparable studies in the US found that adolescents frequently used mass communication late into the night. 55% of US adolescents access the internet and 24% play computer games after 9 pm, while 30% of adolescents reported text messaging.
The American Academy of Paediatrics has suggested that children’s bedrooms ought to be “electronic media-free” rooms.
“Health and wellbeing of young Australians” published in March 2010 by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimated that adolescents need about 9 hours sleep each night. The report went on to say that “Sleep disorders and sleep deprivation have an impact on the health and wellbeing outcomes of young people by reducing their capacity to undertake normal everyday activities.” Thinking, emotional balance and behaviour are all affected by chronic sleep deprivation (Carpenter 2001) with the result being poor school grades and impaired social skills.
The publication went onto say that “communication technology, including TV, internet, newspaper and other media have shown to have an impact on young people and how they review themselves and their community and to inform their views on global issues. Young users are increasingly turning to the internet as a source of information, communication, socialising and entertainment (Gigli 2004).”
Another study conducted in Belgium by J. Van den Bulck (SLEEP 2007;30(9):1220-1223.)* looked at 1,656 children with an average of 13.7 years and found that “Mobile phone use after lights out is very prevalent among adolescents. Its use is related to increased levels of tiredness. There is no safe dose and no safe time for using the mobile phone for text messaging or for calling after lights out.”
The use of mobile phones, after parents have ensured that all other electronic media has been switched off, seems to be common place. The sending and receiving of SMS’s and practices such as “ringing” (interrupting the call before it is answered – which is a way of telling that person “I was thinking of you), “bombing” ( the number of times the phone rings signals what the caller is trying to convey) and sending “chain messages” to a number of friends, are nightly occurrences.
Many adolescents would have their parents believe that they need an array of electronic media as “sleep aids” and that these gadgets and applications help them to unwind and relax in preparation for sleep. However, research shoes that even as they sleep the interaction between media and sleep does not stop. Playing computer games has been shown to shorten REM sleep in adults and many adolescents report dreaming about what they saw on TV or in a computer game.
The Flinders University research team wants their findings to be used in developing guidelines on electronic media use by children, given that sleep is important for learning and memory, as well as having implications for emotional regulation and behaviour.
The researchers go onto say that lack of sleep and poor sleep quality have also been linked to lapses in memory, concentration, and poor academic performance.
“Considering the evidence to date … parents should be informed that simply having electronic media devices in the bedroom can negatively affect their children’s sleep,” they conclude.
Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: SLEEP 2007;30(9):1220-1223.
*The data used in this analysis were gathered by the Leuven School for Mass Communication Research with support from the Fund for Scientific Research (Flanders) and the Ministry of Welfare of the Flemish Government of Belgium.