When we were kids, our parents used to tell us to turn off the lights and stop reading, but we always found ways to disobey them. You know the drill. So to make sure our children aren’t staying under the blankets or bed sheets to keep playing with their smartphones, you have to take it away to your room.
According to a new study in the journal of Pediatrics, smartphones will take some of your kids’ sleeping hours away if you allow them to sleep with it. They sleep less on the average compared to kids who sleep without their smartphones.
“I don’t think that all screen time is ubiquitously bad, but definitely recreational screen time should be limited. Parents can set a screen or device curfew one hour before bedtime,” said Jennifer Falbe, a researcher at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health and the lead author on the paper.
Fourth-graders and seventh-graders who go to bed without their mobiles (smartphone, iPod, tablet, androids) will enjoy more sleep at an average of 20.6 minutes more than those who do, Falbe said.
On the other hand, children with a TV set in their room will only lose an average of 18 minutes of their normal sleep compared to those don’t have one in the room. The research showed that small screens have a more negative effect in terms of sleep loss compared to big screens.
Falbe said she was not a bit surprised by the results. She has also studied how obesity and diet quality are affected by screens.
“It was actually exactly what I expected,” she said.
The research was culled from the information gathered in 2012 involving more than 2000 fourth and seventh grader schoolchildren who were ethnically and racially diverse from two schools located in Massachusetts.
Falbe and her colleagues reported that of those who were interviewed, fifty four percent said they go to sleep with a small screen beside them. It was observed that they were more likely to sleep less than their schoolmates and also grumbled about their poor quality of sleep. The presence of a TV in the room led to less sleep, but it did not affect the quality of their sleep as they observed.
The research paper lists three possibilities for explaining why small screens caused more sleep deprivation than its large screen counterparts.
First, because individuals stare closer at small screens, there was a tendency for a delayed melatonin reaction.
Melatonin is a hormone that regulates our waking and sleeping hours. Any disruption in its production will alter our sleeping habits.
They also note that watching TV is a passive observation. Playing video games on an iPod Touch or a smart phone is more interactive, which can increase cognitive and emotional arousal.
The second observation was that viewers and largely uninvolved when watching TV. It’s different when playing video games using small screens. We are actual participants which heighten our cognitive and emotional state.
Third, small screens provide audible alerts for incoming text messages or other types of notifications. They tend to disturb sleep and awake an already sleeping child.
“I was kind of a late smartphone adapter,” she said, “and before I got the settings right, I got woken up in the middle of the night because of a text or email alert, and it was stressful — I felt I had to check it so I didn’t miss something for work or school.”