Get Technology Out Of The Bedroom
The number one thing a parent or caregiver can do to help reduce the onlife risks to our teens, get any device that can connect to the internet out of their bedrooms. This includes smart TVs, computers, laptops, gaming consoles, and smartphones. All these devices allow a user to communicate with others online. Many parents are unaware that gaming consoles allow access to text-based and voice-based communication with others when connected to the internet. A second reason not to allow tech access in the bedroom, sleep deprivation issues. The current teen sleep recommendations from the Canadian Pediatrics Association; for youth between 6-12yrs, 9-12hrs of sleep, and for teens between 13-18yrs, 8-10hrs of sleep.
For perspective, we decided to ask our 6,754 Instagram followers, who are mostly teens, for their input on tech in the bedroom. We asked them to answer 4 basic questions, and within a 24-hour period, over 700 people replied. Here are the results:
“Do you sleep with your phone in your bedroom?”
734 teens replied:
- 575 said yes (78%)
- 159 said no (22%)
“Do you answer messages on your phone that come through during the night?”
- 195 said yes (27%)
- 533 said no (73%)
“Do you text at night in your bedroom with your cellphone?”
- 244 said yes (46%)
- 286 said no (54%)
“Where do you keep your phone when you sleep?”
- 94 (31%): Bedside table/surface near the head of the bed
- 55 (18%): Another side of the room on a shelf or desk
- 52 (17%): Under the pillow, in bed, in hand
- 23 (7%): On the floor by/under bed
- 79 (26%): Another part of the house, including the family room, kitchen, or parent’s bedroom
So, given the above noted self-reported numbers, here’s the message from teens, over three-quarters (78%) of them do sleep with their phones in their rooms. Just over half three quarters (55%) stated that these phones were within arm’s reach when they go to bed. Half of those who responded (50%) stated that they text on their phones at night in their bedrooms.
This is just not a North American challenge, a recent 2022 study https://bit.ly/3JTehZk out of Australia found that:
“A study of 250,000 Australian kids found 28 percent of eight to 11-year-olds, 57 percent of 12 to 14-year-olds, and 80 percent of those aged 15 and over send and receive messages and calls between 10pm and 6am at least once a week.
One reason to get cellphones, computers, and gaming devices out of the bedroom – Notifications such as text and status alerts on a smartphone, or computer, whether audio or vibrations, can disrupt sleep and wake children and teens up during the night. This can lead to being overly tired throughout the day
Technology, Sleep, and Our Children:
Hard to believe that in 1597, Shakespeare wrote in a play (Henry IV, Part II, Scene 1)
“Oh Sleep, Oh Gentle Sleep! Natures Soft Nurse”
Even back in 1597, people knew how important sleep was when it came to personal health.
Good sleep is important for our youth because:
- It’s energy for the brain, which aids in learning, increases alertness, and helps memory.
- It’s a biological necessity that allows us to perform effectively and safely.
- It’s a developmental necessity for brain growth and maturation, and
- It’s vital to our emotional, psychological, physical, and social wellbeing.
Some parents blame the lack of sleep on technology, but the reality – teen sleep deprivation was already a concern identified by sleep experts prior to the smartphone and computer becoming commonplace. Many studies point to school start times, combined with athletics and homework as the main culprit. In early 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics called the problem of tired teens a “public health concern”.
Now has technology compounded sleep concerns? Absolutely, in fact, in 2017 the CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, stated, “Our biggest rivals aren’t Amazon, YouTube, or even traditional broadcasters, our need of sleep is actually our main barrier to growth” Thus why they create techniques such as infinite scrolling on platforms like TikTok or Instagram, and autoplay on Netflix are all behavioural techniques designed to keep our attention in an attempt to bypass the need for sleep. Another trick that Netflix uses – have you noticed that they no longer release one episode at a time, they now release shows as a whole series at once which again promotes binge-watching.
There is significant research to show us that there is a correlation between sleep deprivation and inhibited learning and being able to self-regulate emotions. In 2015 Stanford Children’s Health Sleep Center has identified that the lack of sleep in our kids leads to:
- Inability to concentrate
- Poor grades
- Aggressiveness and delinquency
- Drowsy-driving incidents
- Anxiety, and
In 2021, the “Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study, https://bit.ly/3xqmDCV authored by Dr. Caterina Stamoulis stated:
“Preteens’ brain circuits are rapidly maturing, particularly those supporting higher-level thought processes like decision-making, problem-solving, and the ability to process and integrate information from the outside world. We show that inadequate sleep could have enormous implications for cognitive and mental health for individual children and at the population level.”
This study, that was spearheaded by Boston Children’s Sleep Center, reported out:
- Shorter sleep durations are associated with less efficient, flexible, and resilient brain networks, and
- Detrimental effects were widespread, from individual regions of the brain to large-scale circuits and the entire brain
Dr. Stamoulis further stated:
“ The network abnormalities we identified can potentially lead to deficits in multiple cognitive processes, including attention, reward, emotional regulation, memory, and the ability to plan, coordinate, and control actions and behaviours”
As author Dr Delaney Ruston stated in her book, “Parenting In The Screen Age”:
“The data is irrefutable. When youth get adequate sleep, it helps prevent problems with mood, obesity, risk-taking behaviours, academics, substance abuse, and mental health”
How Much Sleep Is Needed
According to the Canadian Pediatrics Association, youth between 6-12yrs require between 9-12hrs of good sleep, while youth between 9-18yrs require between 8-10hrs of good sleep. The challenge according to sleep expert Dr. Wendy Torxel, adolescents have a biological clock that disposes them to want to sleep later and wake up later. In other words, our kids are night owls by biological design.
In 2015, a Harvard Study on how portable light-emitting devices, such as cell phones and computers, affect sleep patterns reported out:
“We found that the use of these devices before bedtime prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep, delays the circadian clock, suppresses levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, reduces the amount, and delays the timing of REM sleep, and reduces alertness the following morning. The use of light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime also increases alertness at that time, which may lead users to delay bedtime at home. Overall, we found that the use of portable light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime has biological effects that may perpetuate sleep deficiency and disrupt circadian rhythms, both of which can have adverse impacts on performance, health, and safety.”
The Harvard researchers attributed the disruption of the circadian rhythms which affects the release of melatonin, the drug that helps govern sleep, on the blue light that comes from electronic devices as the culprit. Further, the research found that 6.5hrs of “continual” exposure to blue-light could shift circadian rhythms as much as 3 hours.
Although the Harvard study is often cited as a reason why not to allow teens to have access to screens before bedtime, it was a little unrealistic given that they used 6.5hrs of continual blue light exposure as a benchmark.
However, in a 2016 peer-reviewed study https://bit.ly/3ziof12 the researchers found:
“Use of blue light LED smartphones at night may negatively influence sleep and commission errors, while it may not be enough to lead to significant changes in serum melatonin and cortisol levels”
In another 2021 peer-reviewed study https://bit.ly/3zpsUyn the researchers found:
“This review paper shows that there is no consistent evidence on the effects of RF-EMF on the secretion of melatonin and Cortisol”
In yet another 2021 peer-reviewed study https://bit.ly/2XwPCqN the researchers found:
“Across our full study sample, there were no differences in sleep outcomes attributed to nightshift mode”
“The research suggests blue light may not be enemy number one when it comes to sleep quality”
“data showed that the only people who had better sleep outcomes were those that stayed away from screens entirely before bed”
Or how about this 2016 peer-reviewed study published in PLOS One https://bit.ly/3s1mzFS where they found:
“Screen-time is associated with poor sleep. These findings cannot support the conclusion on causation. Effect-cause remains a possibility: poor sleep may lead to increased screen-time. However, exposure to smartphone screens, particularly around bedtime, may negatively impact sleep”
Now In 2019, Dr. Amy Orben and Dr. Andrew Przybylski with Oxford University released a study on this issue surrounding sleep and digital devices https://bit.ly/2Zl44A7 and reported out:
“We found little evidence for substantial negative associations between digital-screen engagement—measured throughout the day or particularly before bedtime—and adolescent well-being.”
This study went further and stated:
“The findings suggest that the relationship between sleep and screen use in children is extremely modest. Every hour of screen time was related to 3 to 8 fewer minutes of sleep”
So How Is Technology Affecting Sleep?
There are several newer studies that are drawing a strong correlation between using technology right up to the point of bedtime, and the impact it has on extending the time it takes for a teen to reach deep sleep.
In a 2019 peer-reviewed study https://bit.ly/3ArKy5L of 11,872 teens between the ages of 13-15yrs, researchers found:
“The findings indicate statistically and practically significant association between social media use and sleep patterns, particularly late sleep onset”
In a 2016 peer-reviewed study https://bit.ly/3EwbQui they found:
“exposure to smartphone screens, particularly around bedtime, may negatively impact sleep”
Research is starting to show us that youth who are on their device right up to the point where they are putting their heads to the pillow, have not allowed their brains time to de-compress which can have a negative effect on the onset of deep sleep.
As a comparison, how many of you who are reading this book have gone to bed with something on your mind that you need to get done the next day, and you just can’t get it off your mind. This results in trouble falling asleep and/or having a good night’s sleep. Why, because your brain is fully engaged and switched on to what needs to get done the next day. When youth are on their device right up to the point of bedtime, their brains are still fully engaged in what they were doing online. In fact, in a 2019 peer-reviewed study https://bit.ly/3hMUlvS the researchers found:
“Adolescents’ nighttime social media use was driven by concerns over negative consequences for real-world relationships if they disconnected (often reporting delayed bedtimes, insufficient sleep, and daytime tiredness). These concerns included the risk of offline peer exclusion from missing out on online interactions and the fear of social disapproval from violating norms around online availability and prompt responses.”
Given that the research in this specific area is evolving, we always like to error on the side of caution. Our recommendation, based upon current research to date; we should not allow teens to have access to their phones, or any other digital screen technology, a minimum of one hour before going to bed.
Often in our presentation, we will hear teens say that they need their phone in their room because they use it as an alarm clock. Here’s an easy fix to overcome this comment, buy them an alarm clock. The one that we recommend is the “Sonic Bomb” https://www.sonicalert.com/alarm-clocks
This clock uses a 113-decibel alarm, bright blinking LED lights and a remote bed shaker that vibrates the bed when the alarm goes off.
Now is your teen going to be angry that you will no longer allow them to have technology in their bedroom at night? YES, oh well, that is what makes us parents, and sometimes we parent have to say and do things that our kids are not going to like. That’s what makes us parents. As a friend and family counselor Ginger Henderson stated:
“When it comes to online parenting, sometimes being a child’s best friend often only enables less than desirable online behavior. Remember, enabling can often equal damaging behavior. Be your child’s best parent and not their best friend, there is a difference.”
We recommend that these devices should be stored and docked in the parent’s bedroom at night, rather than a public place like the kitchen, where they can also be charged. There are a number of phone charging stations that are available on Amazon to meet your family’s specific needs https://amzn.to/3kosROZ. Make sure that the devices are turned off while charging in your room so that you are not disturbed by notifications that we guarantee these devices will receive at night!
Can Blue Light Harm Our Eyes
In 2018, researchers at the University of Toledo released a study called, “Blue light Excited Retinal Intercepts Cellular Signaling”. In this study, researchers reported that extended periods of blue light could cause damage to our eyes. When this hit the media, it was pointed to by many parents as another reason why cellphones were bad from a health and wellness standpoint. In fact, the eyeglass industry really latched onto this study to help support the sales of blue-filter lenses that were advertised would protect the eyes from the damaging effects of blue light. What was not reported in the media, the study was an animal study and used concentrated blue light that was focused on a forced open eye of the animal over an extended period of time.
Dr. David Ramsey, Director of Ophthalmic Research at the Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, and one of the leading experts on the effects of blue light to the human eye, wrote an article called, “Will blue light from electronic devices increase my risk of macular degeneration and blindness?” Here’s what Dr. Ramsey stated:
“Blue light from electronic devices is not going to increase the risk of macular degeneration or harm any other part of the eye.”
In 2019, a CBC Marketplace interviewed well respect medical experts who echoed Dr. Ramsey’s statement https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkJY9bgLyBE
So, does the low-intensity blue light from cellphones and computers cause damage to the human eye, the best experts and studies say no. Do we use a blue filter in our prescription glasses? yes, we do. Why? to help offset some of the issues identified surrounding eye strain given we spend a lot of time in front of screens. Combined with our blue-filter lenses, we have also adopted the American Academy of Ophthalmology 20-20-20 rules. Every 20 minutes of sitting in front of a screen, take a 20-second break, and focus on an object that is about 20 feet away. This will help to reduce dry eye, blurred vision, headaches, migraines, and sore necks all of which have been identified by ophthalmologists as a direct result of focusing too long on a screen.
Teach your kids who use technology, especially gamers, about the 20-20-20 rules. Also, don’t be sucked into purchasing very expensive blue-light lenses thinking that they will prevent eye damage because of computer or phone use.
Technology and Sleep Takeaways for Parents:
Based upon the best sleep research to date, here’s what we recommend:
- Limit screen time to 1 hour before bedtime – an exception could be an e-reader.
- Keep technology out of the bedroom. We want to condition that a bedroom is a place for sleep.
- Although blue light is not as big of a health issue as is often touted by some, you can change screen illumination on your device which is often called “night mode”.
- Create a sleep structure – during COVID this has been a challenge.
- Start thinking about aligning teen sleep patterns sooner than later before the start of a new school year.
- Remember, youth need between 8-10 hours of good restorative sleep
- Get active/physical (outside if possible) this can promote good sleep.
- Be a good role model when it comes to your use of technology and sleep health.