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Feature article

Kids' Sleep Disrupted Even Thinking about Nearby Smartphones or Tablets

89% of adolescents have at least 1 device in their sleep environment, with most used near bedtime.

It’s been known for some time that the blue light emitted from LED screens can disrupt sleep. But a new meta-study goes even further. Regardless of whether or not  they actually use the devices, children and teens with access to tablets and smartphones at night  don't get enough sleep and are sleepier during the day, , according to a new review.

The review of 20 previous studies found kids using portable media  devices around bedtime were more than twice as likely as kids who didn't use them to have short sleep times, but so were kids who had access to  such devices at night but didn't use them.

"A lot of people argue that it's the device light emission that leads to sleep outcomes, but even if you're not using it, even having the  presence of the device near you affects sleep," said lead author Ben  Carter of King's College London.

"My personal view is it's due to continuous stimulation from things  like social media engagement," and that there may be a similar  relationship with adults, Carter told Reuters Health.

"Your social group is active and you can be thinking about it," he  said. "If I text a loved one an hour before bed then I'm hoping I might  get a reply."

The reviewers included studies of children aged 6 to 19 years that  measured exposures to portable media like tablets and smartphones, but  excluded studies that looked at television, personal computers or  sources of electromagnetic radiation. In total, the included studies  covered more than 125,000 children.

Bedtime media device use was consistently linked to difficulty  falling asleep or staying asleep and poor daytime function due to  sleepiness. Bedtime device use was also tied to insufficient sleep times of less than 10 hours per night for children and less than nine hours  for teens.

Kids with bedtime access to these devices at least three times a week around bedtime, or with a device in the sleep environment, also had  poorer measures of sleep quality and quantity than kids with less or no  access, according to the results in JAMA Pediatrics, October 31st.

72% of all children and 89% of adolescents have at least 1 device in their sleep environment, with most used near bedtime.

"It's normal to wake up during the night but when the phone is there, many people instead of just turning over will tap on the phone  ostensibly to check the time, will see 15 text messages from their buddy or whatever, then 2 hours later they're going back to bed," said Dr.  Charles Czeisler, director of the Sleep Health Institute and chief of  the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women's  Hospital in Boston.

"It's very engaging technology and when it's present in the bedroom  it reduces sleep duration," said Czeisler, who coauthored an editorial  alongside the review.

Two-thirds of teens leave a device on while sleeping in bed at night, and turning the device off or moving it to another room can make a big  difference, he told Reuters Health.

In Brief:  Knowing that a media device is available nearby can delay sleep onset and sleep duration. Turn off and remove all devices from kids’ bedrooms at least one hour before bedtime

"Device use is ubiquitous and they are hugely beneficial in some  cases," Carter said. "However we need to recognize that there are  negative consequences of some device use."

Some devices can be programmed to switch off at a certain hour, which Carter would strongly encourage, he said.


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