Are screen-based devices affecting the quality of your family’s sleep?

Tips for ensuring your family's technology use doesn't interfere with their sleep schedule.

Are the young people in your family getting the sleep they need? According to recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation, children aged 6 to 13 need between 9 and 11 hours of sleep a night, and teens aged 14 to 17 need between 8 and 10 hours. Getting good quality sleep is essential for people of all ages, and it’s particularly important for the physical, cognitive, social and emotional development of children and adolescents. As many parents and teachers will attest, it’s hard to engage young people who are tired, cranky or distracted because they haven’t gotten the amount of sleep that their minds and bodies need.

There’s a growing body of research that explores how the use of screen-based media devices affects our health and well-being – including ways that using devices like smartphones, tablets, computers, gaming consoles and televisions near or during bedtime can negatively affect sleep. A recent article published in JAMA Pediatrics looked at the findings of several studies about connections between sleep outcomes and young people’s access to and use of portable screen-based media devices (such as smartphones and tablets). The overall findings indicated that using these devices before or during bedtime (or merely having the devices present within the sleeping environment) significantly increases a young person’s risk of not getting enough sleep, having poor sleep quality and being excessively tired during the daytime.

Considering the ages when young people are getting their own smartphones and the rates at which they use them, it’s particularly important to be aware of these kinds of impacts. According to a Nielson survey conducted with parents in 2016, 45 percent of kids aged 10 to 12 have their own smartphones, and nearly three-quarters of these children are on service plans that include voice, messaging and data. Research from Common Sense Media shows that teens average about nine hours a day on entertainment media, and they often use mobile devices to access these entertainment media. Having access to these devices within the sleep environment can provide continuous or frequent stimulation that may delay or interrupt sleep time. In addition, young people may become overstimulated by the content of these media, and the blue light emitted from screens can inhibit the release of melatonin (a hormone that helps the brain know when it’s time to go to sleep) and interfere with the body’s internal sleep clock.

What kinds of actions can parents take to help ensure that screen-based devices don’t interfere with the important sleep that young people need as they grow and develop? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that families work together to create a Family Media Use Plan, which can be customized for children at different ages. Across all ages (including adulthood), many experts also recommend that all screen-based devices be kept out of bedrooms – especially at night – and that screens be avoided during the hour before bedtime in order to limit the effects of the blue light emitted from phones, tablets, computers and televisions. Parents may also be interested in exploring apps for phones and other devices that are designed to help limit or adjust the amount of blue light the devices emit during evening hours. In addition, parents can explore apps and service plans that can be used to restrict access to service during specific hours or that allow a maximum duration of media use on a particular device each day.

If you’re interested in learning additional information about the effects of media and technology on health and well-being, see the article titled Strategies to help your family navigate the media landscape. You may also want to explore other resources that Michigan State University Extension provides related to the positive health and development of young people and their families. 

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