For Teens Falling Asleep Gets Harder with More Screen Time

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In the article “For Teens, Falling Asleep Gets Harder with More Screen Time,” Live Science staff writer Laura Geggel discusses the results of a study conducted on teenagers about their sleep habits and electronic device usage. Geggel has been a writer for such organizations and publications as the Simons Foundation, Scholastic, Popular Science, and The New York Times. She studied English literature and psychology before taking a Master’s degree in science writing.

Geggel writes in the article about the relationship between the teens’ ‘screen time’ exposure, difficulties falling asleep, and sleep duration problems. The authors of the study point out that it did not matter when the teenagers experienced their electronic device exposure, though the authors stated that many of the teenagers who participated in the study reported using an electronic device within an hour before going to bed. The study revealed that the cumulative exposure to screen throughout the day was more relevant than the teens’ contact with electronic devices before going to bed. However, the researchers did report that teenagers who used their devices before going to bed typically needed more than an hour to finally fall asleep.

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The more than 9,800 teenagers who participated in the study ranged from 16 years of age to 19 years and included both boys and girls. The authors found differences between the genders and their responses. For example, in terms of electronic devices/screen exposure, boys preferred gaming consoles while girls preferred smartphones and MP3 players. However, it does not appear that the type of device made a difference in terms of the impact on the teenagers’ ability to fall asleep or the duration of their sleep period. The study also revealed that most teenagers who used devices typically got less than the 8-9 hours of sleep the teenagers themselves reported being necessary for feeling rested from sleep.

Geggel ends the article with a discussion of why researchers think electronic devices have such an impact on teenagers and why these findings are important. The researchers theorize that the lights from the devices interrupt natural circadian rhythm. It is also possible that interactions with the devices stimulate the central nervous system, making it difficult for the teenagers to settle down to rest. The study’s findings are important because they can help researchers develop new guidelines for helping teenagers make good decisions about electronic device usage in the context of sleep health. The recommendation that concludes the article is that parents should be good role models for their children in terms of device use. In other words, parents should probably reduce their device use to send a message to their children to put down the devices.

After reading this article, there is a part of me that says, “Duh!” If people use devices before bedtime, they are stimulating their brains. If their brains are stimulated, it is going to be difficult for their brains to “calm down” so they can sleep. These people are going to be thinking about what they just read or watched. They’re going to be thinking about how they responded to it, how they felt about it, and a lot of other responses. Their brains are going to be processing all this information; their brains aren’t going to be able to just stop processing.

The part about how the lights disrupt circadian rhythm seemed interesting; it would be interesting to see a study done where one group does not use devices at all to see how they compared to the group that did. Another study could be done on how just light affects the person. Since the authors of the study weren’t sure if it was stimulation or circadian rhythm disturbance, it seems as though more research is needed on the relationship between lights to circadian rhythm. Another study that could be done would be to see if there were different effects between the different kinds of devices – is a videogame more likely to keep someone up or keep them from falling asleep as quickly as a smartphone? What about laptops? It seems like most students do a lot of their homework on a computer – does that have relevance to the study? It also seems like the only difference between the genders was the preferred device. That information almost seems irrelevant to the discussion, since Geggel and the study authors don’t seem to go into more detail about other differences between the sexes.

However, I agree with the article on something it never directly says but implies: teenagers – and people in general – spend too much time staring at screens and not enough time NOT staring at screens. It seems like every other day I see an article about the dangers of not taking a break from devices and social media and how they contribute to isolation and depression. I think the idea of parents being role models for their kids and device usage is great, but kids tend to look to their peers about acceptable behaviors. I think parents should talk with their children about limiting device exposure, especially if their children seem to always be complaining about being tired.

Sleep is very important; everybody knows that. Anything that disrupts sleep can contribute to other health problems. The study this article discusses makes that obvious. While the article does not do such a great job of organization or presenting the information from the study, it does make that information easy to understand by a lay person. The message I take from the article is that in order to sleep better, I should put down my device(s) more often.

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