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Teens and Sleep: How Technology is Playing a Role in Restless Nights

We are all familiar with the marked increase in media usage and availability over the last 10 years.  From televisions and computers to cell phones, iPads, and hand-held videogame devices, we all use technology.  All the time.

While we cannot argue with the convenience of these technologies, not to mention their entertainment value, there is a downside when it comes to our sleep.  In the sleep world, we call these devices “sleep stealers” because, as their name implies, time spent using these devices at night robs us of the optimal duration of sleep we really need.

Teens are frequently the subject of studies on this topic.  Likely because not only is a great deal of their lives are spent socializing but, let’s be honest, teens hate to go to bed early.  And, to some extent, rightfully so. There is an actual phenomenon of the sleep-wake cycle shifting in adolescence toward a later sleep time.

How Does Technology Use Affect Teen’s Sleep?

But nighttime technology use only adds to the struggle to get teens sufficient rest.  Recent studies revealed that 20% of teens are texting and 17% are making calls between 12am-3am.  20% are awoken in the middle of the night from an incoming text at some time, 9% several times per week, and 3% every night (van den Bulck, 2003, 2007).  If you add up the hours of lost sleep over the week, the result is staggering!

Aside from the obvious outcome of delaying sleep onset, what are the other effects?  Evidence shows that excessive nighttime technology use (>2 hours) can lead to increased arousal (cognitive and physiological), circadian rhythm disruption due to bright light, and decreased total sleep time (Cain & Cradisar, 2010).

So, what can you do to help your teen get the sleep they need?

  • Make it a house rule for everyone to put their technology in a designated place outside of the bedroom (e.g., the kitchen counter) prior to bedtime.  If children see that their parents are willing to adopt this practice, they may be more accepting of the routine.
  • If excessive nighttime technology is a problem and your teen is reluctant to give it up, pick an alternative nightly activity that can be done as a family, such as playing games, talking about the day, reading, etc.
  • Some teens and adults do need the television to fall asleep.  While I would not recommend someone starting this, it can be a difficult habit to break.  If this is the case, it is best to set a timer on the TV to automatically turn off after 30 minutes.  This will prevent night-time awakenings from noise and light.
  • Talk about the importance of sleep and make it a priority for the whole family.  If teens are aware of the negative impact that lack of sleep can have on their functioning (decreased attention, increased emotionality, weight control problems, etc.), they may be more motivated to make a change.

Read here for more strategies to help your teen make good decisions.