I often find myself opening up my phone to look something up, send a quick text, or use Facebook when I get in bed to fall asleep. And my phone spends the night on the bedside table right next to me. It’s a habit I have trouble breaking, even though I know it is a bad one. These days, it seems that everyone has a cell phone, iPod, tablet, or other handheld electronic, even young kids. You probably know of many kids who tuck into bed with their cell phone or iPod. But are cell phones dangerous to keep next to you as you sleep? Studies show that cell phone screens and other electronic devices in the bedroom may be interfering with sleep quality in children.
The importance of good quality sleep for kids
Kids need sleep. Many children do not get enough of it, especially during the transition to adolescence, when sleeping habits tend to change. But insufficient sleep can compromise children’s health in a variety of ways, and the effects can be long lasting. Sleep helps improve school performance, reduces risk-taking behaviors, and enhances immunity in kids. Inadequate sleep in childhood is considered a major risk factor for developing obesity in adulthood, and it might also be related to hypertension, heart disease, and stroke later on as well.
Electronic media in children’s bedrooms
There are numerous studies showing electronic use to be linked to later bedtimes, shorter sleep, and increased sleep disruptions in adolescents.[2,3] One study found that electronic media use in bed is related to sleep problems, shorter sleep duration, and increased levels of depressive symptoms. In fact, the more screens a kid has in the bedroom, the lower their sleep efficiency will likely be.
More recently, research has focused on the effects of smart phones on kids’ sleep.[2,3] A recent study found the presence of small screens in the bedroom, such as a cell phone screen, to be detrimental; children who slept near a small screen reported an average of 20.6 minutes less sleep than those who didn’t, and they reported higher levels of insufficient rest.
Adolescents who own a smart phone are more likely to go to bed later than those who don’t have a smart phone. In one study, half of the children surveyed took a cell phone to bed with them and kept it on while sleeping. Those who did so were more likely to be woken up by their phone during the night.
Smartphone or other handheld electronic use can affect sleep in a variety of ways. Using a phone may delay sleep, increase emotional and physiological arousal, or disrupt sleep if an alert goes off in the middle of the night. The light emitted from these devices, held near your eyes, can also disrupt sleep, as light exposure at night affects melatonin production and can lead to trouble falling asleep or poor quality rest.
To help your kids get healthy, restorative sleep, try taking phones and other electronics out of the bedroom. Ideally, your children’s bedrooms, as well as your own, should be completely technology-free. They should also be dimly lit with red lights. Cut off electronic use an hour or more before bedtime.
For more tips on safe technology use, check out these additional resources:
Share your experience
Does you child sleep with a smart phone? Do you? Do you have any tips for taking electronics out of the bedroom, especially for adolescents? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.