Technology and Teen Sleep Deprivation
Vol. 16 No. 2
For the past few years, there has been notable research on how technology (e.g., digital devices, laptops, television) disrupts student sleep patterns—and student success (or not) in school. A recent meta-analysis of 20 studies, Association Between Portable Screen-Based Media Device Access or Use and Sleep Outcomes, published by JAMA Pediatrics, sheds more light on this “major public-health concern” for students. Attention-stealing devices like televisions, computers, MP3 players, and cell phones are largely to blame.
The study, covering more than 125,000 children, determined there was a “strong and consistent association between bedtime media-device use and inadequate sleep quantity, poor sleep quality, and excessive daytime sleepiness.” Almost 90% of teens have at least one device in their bedrooms, and most use those devices in the hour before going to bed. Such children are twice as likely to not sleep enough and 40% report poor sleep quality, compared to children who have no access to those devices at bedtime. Students who had access or used media devices before bedtime were also more than twice as likely to experience excessive sleepiness in school.
According to another study from the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), 95% of those surveyed reported using electronic devices just before sleep. People under the age of 30 are the worst offenders—especially teenagers aged 13 to 18. Texting an hour before sleeping is prevalent, for example. While Baby Boomers on average read, send, or receive five texts in the hour before sleep, Gen-Zers typically text 56 times in that hour. Many students feel a sense of attachment to their phones and other digital devices, and view technology as a lifeline that they can’t live without. Unfortunately, when using such devices disrupts their sleep, this leads to anxiety, depression, and other maladies.
Another problem reported by researches is that exposure late at night to the “blue light” created by computer and other screens causes sleep-phase delay. The lit screens impact (via the retina) the portion of the brain that controls the body’s circadian cycle, sending the message that it’s not time for sleep yet. A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology suggested that performing “exciting” computer activities, like a playing a video game, may suppress melatonin production, the so-called “sleep hormone.”
The NSF recommends that teens get 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep every night of the week. However, the average teen gets about 7.5 hours of sleep each night; 62% of 9th–12th graders report inadequate amounts of sleep.
Sleep deprivation is of particular concern to schools. As mentioned above, research shows that a lack of sleep leads to:
- poorer school performance (lower grades),
- negative moods,
- health risk behaviors (e.g., substance abuse, thoughts of suicide), and
- increased incidents of adolescent-related car accidents.
Academic leaders must be aware of these problems and educate parents about the impact of sleep deprivation on their children.
The NSF and other sleep experts make the following recommendations for parents.
- Take technology out of the bedroom. For example, mandate that all cell phones in the house are recharged at night in a room other than the bedroom. Don’t allow a TV, laptop, or other device in a teenager’s bedroom after a certain hour.
- Reserve the last hour before bed for nighttime rituals like brushing teeth, showering, etc. Pleasure reading is also a wonderful way to unwind as well.
- Make your child understand that the lack of sleep can cause them to be less creative, forgetful, do poorly on assignments, and fall asleep in the classroom. Sleep deprivation has also shown to cause acne, weight gain, and other health problems.
- Establish a consistent sleep schedule, every day of the week. Don’t let teenagers stay up late nights or “sleep in” on the weekends.
- Make sure your child gets enough exercise. An hour of playing tennis, for example, is far better than an hour in bed playing video games.
- Monitor your child’s schedule. Is he or she overwhelmed with school responsibilities, sports, clubs, perhaps a part-time job at the expense of sleep? Perhaps lessening the number of these activities can rectify the situation.
The dynamics around sleep, student performance, student well-being, and the student’s evening time are complex. Talk with parents to ensure that your students receive an adequate amount of quality sleep—and a better experience at your school.