It’s easy to be nonchalant about how nobody gets enough sleep these days, but the impact on our children is real. Most kids in the US and UK are overtired, and most teens are in a state of constant sleep deprivation. In fact, Generation Z (currently ages 14-19) are the least likely of all people to get an adequate amount of rest. Don’t blame the economy, the stress of school, or helicopter parenting. The real culprit may be the device you’re reading this article on.
Often, the poison points towards the cure. According to my Google analytics, almost 1 in 3 of my readers access this blog with a mobile device. Ironically many of the blog’s topics include strategies for getting better rest, and this information is being delivered by the very technology that steals our sleep.
This article is not about judging (after all, it’s 2:30 am and here I am blogging away), but rather, it’s about finding the right balance for technology in our private lives.
For the sake of argument, below are some choice statistics about kids, sleep and connectivity (computers, phones, TV and tablets).
Some caveats: many of these statistics come from small studies, which means we need even more studies to replicate the findings and apply the trends to larger population groups. Also, remember that studies show correlations…not necessarily causation.
Even still, a disturbing trend is revealed: today’s children are being socially entrained to continuously devalue the need to rest, just like we do, in part due to the new, always-on, digital lifestyle.
Kids and Bedroom Connectivity
- 43% of school-aged children have a TV or computer in the bedroom1
- On average children go to bed 30 minutes later when a TV or computer is in the bedroom1
- Children with a TV/computer in their bedroom also watch one hour more of media a day2
- 60% of adolescents and teens use mobile devices after “lights out”3
- 18% of teens between ages of 13-18 are awoken by cellphone calls, emails and texts several times a week.4
- 77% of teens between ages 13-18 are using computer the hour before trying to go to sleep.4
What is the result of this saturation of media and hyper-connectivity?
You may be tempted to think that looking at a computer and texting your friends before bed (and during the middle of the night) is simply this generation’s version of the flashlight and the comic book.
I think it’s worse. In fact, scientists have a new term for the effects of digital media on our sleep/wake patterns: “junk sleep,” or continuously disrupted sleep.5 In short, constant connectivity damages our sleep health and affects kids’ academic performance, emotional well-being and possibly their physical maturation.
Effects of Being Wired 24/7 on Kids’ Sleep Health
- Teens require 9-10 hours sleep a night on average, but get 7.5-8 hours.6
- 61% of teens between 13-18 are getting less than 8 hours sleep a night4
- Teens and adolescents who use their mobile device several times a week are 5X as likely to be very tired during the day4
- Use of mobile devices after lights out related to many sleep problems, including: short sleep duration, subjective poor sleep quality, excessive daytime sleepiness, and insomnia symptoms7
- Playing exciting video games before bed also reduces sleepiness and amount of REM sleep8
- Sleep deficiency in children and teens increases the risk of obesity and diabetes. 9, 10
- Sleep deficiency may impair healthy growth11
Okay that’s the bad news.
I’m the type that gets fired up by doom and gloom. For me, it’s a swift kick to keep building the way I want to live, and safeguard the values I want to pass on to the next generations.
It’s an uphill battle because society shuns sleep. Maybe we can’t convince schools to start later –at least not most of them, and not yet– but we can draw stronger boundaries with electronics through our own action.
Meanwhile around the world, the much anticipated video game Diablo III is launching, guaranteeing no teen will sleep for the next month.
So what can we do?
How to balance the amazing advantages of the digital lifestyle with the need for sanctity and a time to turn it all off and get some rest?
In that spirit — not of limitation but of balance — here’s some ideas for cleaning up the junk sleep, one home at a time.
5 Ways to Improve your children’s sleep (and yours too).
1. New Household rule involving no mobile use one hour before bed. This is the first step in creating your bedroom sanctuary, a topic I discuss at length in my ebook Enhance your dream life.
2. Establish a charging station for mobile devices in a public area, shifting electronics away from the bedrooms.
3. Even better: Move the TV and computers out of the bedroom – make it media free-zone except for special occasions
4. If necessary, consider collecting cellphones each night. More effective for the younger set. For teens, that may be too punitive. Save for special restrictions!
5. Clean up your own digital life and live by example. That’s what we absorb from our families: not what we say, but what we do.
Do you have any other ideas? What has worked for you in keeping the digital demons at bay in your home? Please leave a comment!
1. National Sleep Foundation: Kids sleep less with TV or computer in their bedroom
3. Van den Bulck, J. (2007). Adolescent Use of Mobile Phones for Calling and for Sending Text Messages After Lights Out: Results from a Prospective Cohort Study with a One-Year Follow-Up. Sleep. September 1; 30(9): 1220–1223.
4. National Sleep Foundation. Sleep in America Poll, 2011.
5. BBC: Junk sleep damaging teen health
6. National Sleep Foundation: Teens and Sleep
7. Munezawa T, Kaneita Y, Osaki Y, Kanda H, Minowa M, Suzuki K, Higuchi S, Mori J, Yamamoto R, Ohida T. (2011). The association between use of mobile phones after lights out and sleep disturbances among Japanese adolescents: a nationwide cross-sectional survey. Sleep Aug 1;34(8):1013-20.
8. Higuchi S, Motohashi Y, Liu Y, Maeda A. (2005). Effects of playing a computer game using a bright display on presleep physiological variables, sleep latency, slow wave sleep and REM sleep. Journal of sleep research, 14(3):267-73.
9. National Institutes of Health: What are sleep deprivation and deficiency?
10. Kristen L. Knutson, Karine Spiegel, Plamen Penev, and Eve Van Cauter (2007). The Metabolic Consequences of Sleep Deprivation. Sleep Medicine Review. 2007 June; 11(3): 163–178.
11. J R Davidson, H Moldofsky, and FA Lue (1991). Growth hormone and cortisol secretion in relation to sleep and wakefulness. Journal of Psychiatry Neuroscience. July; 16(2): 96–102.
First image (CC): Sleeping preschooler by sdminor81