Optimizing Teen Sleep – Scientists Reveal the Secret

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To optimize sleep, a new study suggests teens keep screens outside the bedroom, turn off device notifications, avoid social media use in bed, and refrain from checking phones if they wake up during the night. Parents, on the other hand, should understand the centrality of social media and smartphones in their child’s developmental process and maintain an active presence.

Recent studies reveal that adolescents who refrain from having screens in their bedrooms, disable notifications, and abstain from using social media while in bed experience enhanced sleep quality.

A week following the American Psychological Association’s health advisory regarding adolescent use of social media, the US Surgeon General also published an advisory on the implications of social media on the mental health of young people. Both advisories made it clear that there might be a correlation between excessive social media use and disturbed sleep patterns among teenagers. In light of these findings, what measures can both teens and parents adopt to promote better sleep?

A new study published in the journal Sleep Health provides valuable insight into screen-related behaviors that are associated with improved sleep.

“Getting enough sleep is crucial for teenagers because it helps their body and mind grow and develop properly,” says lead author Jason Nagata, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. “Our research found that keeping screens outside of the bedroom, turning off device notifications, and avoiding social media use in bed is associated with better sleep among adolescents. If you wake up during the night, don’t check your phone or social media.”

  • Keep screens outside of the bedroom. Having a TV set or internet-connected device in the bedroom was associated with a 27% higher risk of having trouble falling or staying asleep.
  • Turn off the ringer and notifications. Leaving the phone ringer on was associated with a 23% higher risk of having trouble falling or staying asleep compared to turning it off. 16.9% of adolescents reported having a phone call, text message, or e-mail wake them up after trying to go to sleep in the past week.
  • Don’t use social media or other electronic devices before going to sleep. Using social media, chatting on the internet, playing video games, browsing the internet, and watching or streaming movies, videos, or TV shows while in bed before sleeping were all associated with trouble falling or staying asleep.
  • If you wake up during the night, don’t use your phone or engage with social media. One-fifth of adolescents reported that they used their phone or other device after waking up during the night in the past week. This was associated with a 34% higher risk of sleep troubles.

The researchers analyzed data from 10,280 preteens aged 10-14 who are part of the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study, the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States. Data were collected from 2018 to 2020. The adolescents and their parents answered questions about their sleep habits and youth were asked about their screen and social media use at bedtime. 15.5% of preteens reported at least several days of trouble falling or staying asleep in the past two weeks. 16.9% reported being woken up by phone calls, text messages, or emails while sleeping at least once in the past week. Furthermore, 20.0% reported using their phone or another device if they woke up overnight.

“Adolescents may be hypervigilant to the sounds of phone notifications and immediately awaken to the sound of their phone,” said Nagata.

“Adolescent development is a challenging time for many given the social pressures and physical, psychological, and emotional changes that occur,” said co-author, Kyle T. Ganson, Ph.D., MSW, assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.

“Understanding the centrality of social media and smartphones to this developmental process, and being present, is crucial for parents to their child.”

Reference: “Bedtime screen use behaviors and sleep outcomes: Findings from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study” by Jason M. Nagata, Gurbinder Singh, Joanne H. Yang, Natalia Smith, Orsolya Kiss, Kyle T. Ganson, Alexander Testa, Dylan B. Jackson and Fiona C. Baker, 23 April 2023, Sleep Health.
DOI: 10.1016/j.sleh.2023.02.005

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation

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