Impact of Devices on Children's Sleep a Major Concern for Researchers

Increased access to and use of mobile digital devices at bedtime among children and teens is a “major public health concern,” according to a recently published meta-analysis by British researchers.

In a roundup of 20 recent studies examining 125,198 children, the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics found “a strong and consistent association between bedtime media device use and inadequate sleep quantity, poor sleep quality and excessive daytime sleepiness.”

The researchers found that children experienced similar deleterious effects on their sleep when they had access to mobile digital devices, even if they did not use them before bedtime.

The researchers warned that schools’ shift to digital technology over textbooks can have an impact on children’s sleep as well:

“Given the evolving technological landscape and the replacement of textbooks with media devices in schools, screen-based media device access and use are likely to rise. It is imperative that teachers, health care professionals, parents and children are educated about the damaging influence of device use on sleep.”

Sleep disturbance in childhood is known to lead to adverse physical and mental health consequences, the researchers said. These can include poor diet, sedentary behavior, obesity, reduced immunity, stunted growth, depression and substance abuse.

Previous studies have linked television, gaming consoles and desktop computers to negative sleep outcomes. A major focus has been the impact of blue light emissions, which can negatively affect humans’ sleep patterns.

The new meta-analysis focused on studies of “portable mobile and media devices,” such as tablets and smartphones. The researchers said they’ve found evidence that such devices present a new challenge to healthy sleep because of the way they facilitate real-time continuous psychological and physiological arousal and stimulation.

Nearly three-fourths of children and 89 percent of adolescents have at least one device in their sleep environment, with most of them used near bedtime, according to the investigation, titled “Association Between Portable Screen-Based Media Device Access or Use and Sleep Outcomes.” It was published online Oct. 31 through the JAMA Network.

The study defined inadequate sleep as less than 10 hours nightly for children and less than nine hours nightly for adolescents. Sleep quality, the researchers said, is based on difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, as well as not being refreshed by sleep. “Excessive daytime sleepiness” was defined as “poor daytime functioning as a result of both sleep quantity and quality.”

To read the full report, visit the JAMA Network site.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].