Facebook, chat, and email access via tablets and smartphones just might be a culprit in luring kids away from dreamland, as researchers have found that those who keep their small screens off and away at night have better sleeping habits than those who keep them at their bedsides. Researchers discovered that tablet and smartphone screens are more detrimental to sleeping habits than bedroom televisions, which have long been equated with sleep disruption. The lack of sleep is only the tip of the iceberg in potential health hazards related to keeping electronics in the bedroom at night.
The University of California at Berkeley School of Public Health conducted the study and published it in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) Pediatrics Journal on Jan. 5, 2015, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Lead researcher Jennifer Falbe and her team administered surveys to over 2,000 nine and 12-year olds in Massachusetts. The study was one more piece of the puzzle in their ongoing investigation into better understanding childhood obesity. According to the survey, the bulk of the kids who participated in the study slept in a room with tablets or smartphones nearby rather than off and away where Facebook posts can go on without constant monitoring.
The presence of the small electronics at their bedsides exposes children to distraction, not only from the glowing screen but also the potential for audible notifications from Facebook, email, text messaging, games, chat, and other apps that equal fitful sleep periods. Charging them off and away in another room removes the buzz of constant interruptions giving kids a better chance of a restful sleep. Three-quarters of the children also had TVs in their bedrooms.
After analyzing the Facebook generation’s survey data, the research team found that while a television in the bedroom shaved an average of 18 minutes off of children’s sleep time, the small screen devices raised the deficit to 21 minutes. Gamers tended to lose an additional five minutes of sleep while TV and DVD watchers lost four minutes. They speculate the possibility that the screen’s proximity to the child’s face, being much closer than a television and increasing the exposure to its blue light, could possibly inhibit the melatonin triggers that signal the body to wind down for the night. They conclude that this could be an important factor in the children’s reports of feeling less well-rested and drowsier in the morning.
Although they do acknowledge that the results are far from conclusive in establishing the causal link between tablets, smartphones, and lack of sleep in children, researchers say further study will be required to determine if other factors are influencing the results. Nonetheless, Falbe recommends that parents limit their children’s screen time with Facebook, Snapchat, text messaging, email, and games because of the health risks associated with sleep deprivation.
The study confirms the consequences of electronics in the bedroom suggested by other studies, including adults who use e-readers in bed. Sleep deprivation is not the only issue as the digital device-addicted lifestyle may also indicate a more sedentary activity level. The resulting lack of physical activity may lead to weight gain and other health concerns. Therefore, getting kids away from the glowing screens and off Facebook activity may help reset their internal circadian clocks that tells them it is time to sleep. Better sleep equals more energy for physical activity in order to improve overall physical and mental fitness.
Although kids may protest Facebook and other restrictions on electronic access, parents need to hold firm on keeping the screens, both large and small, out of the bedroom, Falbe explains. In addition to weight gain, the implications of unrestricted access and the associated lack of sleep could lead to poor performance in school, faulty behavior choices, and possibly even lowered immunity. Keeping the electronics off and away may not win parents any popularity points with the generation whose lives often revolve around socializing via Facebook and other social media, but better sleep equals more peace of mind about a child’s overall health, which is a sacrifice well worth the risk of his or her temporary displeasure.
By Tamara Christine Van Hooser