Jan. 5, 2015 at 2:44 AM ET
For tweens who got a tablet or smartphone for the holidays, their new bedtime routine may involve Netflix helping them doze off. But don’t think that’s better than watching TV before bed. A new study finds that even small-screen devices interrupt children’s sleep.
Experts have known that a flickering TV in the bedroom cuts into children’s sleep time. A researcher at the University of California, Berkeley wondered if small screens, such as those found on tablets and smartphones, influenced children’s sleep, too.
“Much less is known about new forms of media, like smartphones,” says Jennifer Falbe, lead author of the study, which appears in the journal Pediatrics. “[They] have the potential to impact sleep, perhaps to a greater degree than traditional media.”
Falbe studied results from the Massachusetts Childhood Obesity Research Demonstration, where 2,048 fourth-and seventh-grade students answered questions about their sleep and TV, smartphone, and tablet habits.
What the new research found:
- Children who dozed off near a small screen said they slept 20.6 minutes less than their peers who snoozed away from electronic devices.
- More importantly, children attached to small screens complained of interrupted sleep, something that even those who watched loads of TV or slept with a TV in the room did not admit to feeling.
- Those who were lulled to sleep by a TV admitted to 18 fewer minutes a sleep.
- Children who spent a lot of time during the day watching TV or videos or playing videogames also reported sleeping less.
The study didn’t look at why small screens impact sleep, but Falbe says a few factors play a role.
“While any type of light can suppress melatonin release, blue light emitted from electronics has a stronger impact on melatonin release,” she says. “Content can be engaging and emotionally arousing.”
While children may treat tablets and smartphones like another appendage, experts say there are ways to stop them from migrating to the bedroom.
“[Smart phones and tablets] are robbing the kid of the nightly routine of how to go to bed and get to sleep,” says Michele Borba, a parenting expert and TODAY Parents contributor.
She believes children need to learn how to fall asleep without help from electronics and recommends that phones and tablets are worked into the nighttime routine. Children will soon know that they can’t use electronics a half hour before bed.
Parenting expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa takes it one step further: parents should keep all chargers in their bedrooms and tell their children they must “park” their devices in their rooms. The ping of a text will no longer cause a child to spring from bed to check a phone or tablet.
“Kids genuinely believe … communication is actually that urgent,” says Gilboa. “Every one of those messages feels impossible to ignore.”