A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics has confirmed what sleep specialists, doctors and concerned parents have suspected for some time – that children who use electronics and portable media devices before bedtime end up having poor sleep and not enough of it.
Using cell phones, laptops and tablets at or near bedtime is increasingly becoming the norm for many families, including for children whose quality and quantity of sleep is being seriously affected as a result. An international group of researchers including representatives from England and Wales used data from 20 different studies involving 125,198 children between the ages of six and 19 years old and found that children who used media devices in their sleep environments were more than twice as likely to have inadequate sleep quantity, poor sleep quality and daytime sleepiness.
More surprisingly, the study showed that even children who had access to mobile media devices but refrained from using them at bedtime also experienced poorer sleep quality and quantity, a result which speaks to the invasive power of electronic gadgetry in today’s wired world.
“To date, this study is the first systematic review and meta-analysis of the association of access to and the use of media devices with sleep outcomes,” say the study’s authors, who conclude that an “integrated approach” among teachers, health care professionals and parents will be needed to combat the prevalence of device use at bedtime. “We recommend that interventions to minimize device access and use need to be developed and evaluated,” says the study’s authors, who include Ben Carter, Ph.D., M.Sc., of King’s College London.
The study’s results echo statements made by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) which recently released a new set of guidelines for children’s media use. The AAP recommends that parents prioritize unplugged activities for their children and that they set up a family media use plan to address the issue of screen time.
“Families should proactively think about their children’s media use and talk with children about it, because too much media use can mean that children don’t have enough time during the day to play, study, talk or sleep,” says Jenny Radesky, MD, lead author of the AAP policy statement, “Media and Young Minds.” Among its recommendations, the AAP asks that children under 18 months participate in no screen time and that between the ages of two and five, screen time is limited to one hour per day of high quality programs.
ParticipAction Canada earlier this year released a report card on the state of physical activity in Canadian children and youth which said almost one third of school-aged children are living sleep deprived lives. The report puts the blame on kids not getting enough exercise and being too attached to their mobile devices. “Because of screens in their bedroom, because of holding their cellphone under their pillow, because they didn’t move very much in that day and frankly are not fatigued, (kids) get a disrupted night’s sleep,” says Dr. Mark Tremblay, lead researcher for the ParticipAction Report Card.
The report card gave a grade of D- on physical activity, saying that only nine per cent of Canadians between the ages of five and 17 get the recommended minimum of 60 minutes of “heart-pumping activity” a day, as well as a grade of F for sedentary behaviour, reflective of the fact that only 24 per cent of five to 17-year-olds had less than the recommended daily maximum of two hours of recreational screen time per day.