Should screens be banned in the bedroom?

Electronic devices with bright screens could be disrupting the sleep patterns of teenagers...
09 February 2015

Interview with 

Mari Hysing, Uni Research Health, Bergen


Should computers and mobile phones be banned from the bedroom? New research from Norway suggests that electronic devices with bright screens could be disrupting the sleep patterns of teenagers - 90% of whom admitted using a screen in the 60 mins before going to bed. Mari Hysing based at Uni Research Health, in Bergen, says the resulting sleep deficiency is profound, as she explains to Chris Smith...

Mari - We did a study on this last year where we found that for every weekday that adolescents get 2 hours less sleep than what they should be getting. So, that's a 2-hour sleep deficit every single day. Again, we know that having not sleep sufficiently is related to poor physical and mental healthy as well as absenteeism and lower school performance.

Chris - Is there evidence Mari, that this problem is an acute one? It's just happened or it's getting worse or has it always been like this?

Mari - Well yes and no. I think that there have always been people that are not been sleeping enough, but there are evidence that it might be getting worse for teenagers. That they're sleeping less than what they did many years ago.

Chris - And your thought would be, it's the distraction of having electronic devices because the data I've seen, it's something like 97% of American adolescents have at least one electronic device with a screen on it in their bedroom.

Mari - Yes and this was the same we found in the Norwegians that 90% of them did spend some time or some electronic device the last hour before they went to sleep in their bedrooms. So, we're getting to the American level.

Chris - Who did you look at in your study and how did you actually do this work?

Mari - Well, this is part of a large epidemiological study, 10,000 adolescents in a county in Norway. So, we invited all the adolescents in the county and they were able to answer these questions on the internet during their school days and for those who were not in school, they answered at home.

Chris - I presume they didn't answer at night just before going to bed.

Mari - We don't lmpw actually, so we might be part of the problem here.

Chris - Indeed and this was to enable you to probe how their screen use or exposure to electronic devices is linked to their sleep patterns. So, you got data on how they were sleeping and how much computing they were doing.

Mari - Yeah. So, this is part of a big study and this was one of the aspects that we were able to cover more detailed.

Chris - When you broke that data down, what trends were emerging?

Mari - So, what we did find then was that the hours of screen time during the day as well as that last hour before they went to sleep in their bedroom were related to sleep duration and how long it took for them to fall asleep at night.

Chris - And how do you account for this effect? Is it just that by playing around on an electronic device, a person by definition is not going to sleep or do you think that it's causal? Do you think that the use of the device makes a person more prone to poor sleep afterwards?

Mari - Yes. We do think that there are multiple pathways and some of them direct. That is, many of these screens have quite bright light and some of the blue lights might impact your hormone production or the sleep hormones. So, it actually sets your clock off a little bit. In the same sense that being outside in the morning helps your sleep, having very bright light in evening will probably delay your sleep pattern and making it harder for you to fall asleep at night. But as you say, it's not just the biological effect here. It's very probable that using screens either way is brain activating, and socially activating. So, getting activated and enthusiastic or into what you do then you're not relaxing and that's what you need to do when you go to sleep.

Chris - What do you think then the implication of this is? Do you think that actually, there's a reason to be concerned and we need to consider some kind of action?

Mari - I think that all teenagers or most of them are going to use their screens and that's okay. I think it's more, finding that balance between how much time you spend on your screens and doing other activities - school, friends and physical activity. Maybe at night, we can be more definite and say that it's good to prioritise your sleep and by logging off at night and keeping the electronics out of your bedroom, and also, try to log off the last hour before sleep, you'd be helping your health and maybe also school performance.

Chris - There must be some implications for adults in this too surely because if you look at the data Facebook have got on people's use of their platform, one of the last things, many of their adult users do before they go to bed is quite clearly, checking their Facebook page and see what their friends are up to. So, are we all actually probably suffering in the same way these teenagers are?

Mari - Yes, I think we are and it's very possible that the same mechanisms works for adult. It might be that for adolescents, it's a very sensitive time. During your teenage years, you need your school performance and a lot of things happen that have major consequences for the rest of your life. so, I think it's important as parents that we try to help them to improve their sleep. But maybe this is a good opportunity to look at our own use of the screens and maybe improve our own sleep as well.


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