by Renata Smith, MPH

We already know that lack of sleep is bad for your health.  Chelsea Jenter and Elizabeth Cespedes highlighted how screen time limits sleep and that poor sleep is associated with obesity, poor cognition, and children’s behavior. Much of this prior literature has focused on the impact of television screen time on children’s sleep, especially the presence of TVs in children’s bedrooms. But what about small screens (smart phones, iPads, iPods, etc.)?
A recently published study by Falbe et al. in Pediatrics examined the association between small screens and sleep duration in children. Their study,  including 2,048 seventh and  fourth grade public school students in Massachusetts, assessed children’s night time smart phone habits, including sleeping near a smart phone, and sleep via self-report.

Fifty-four percent of children (average age of 11 years) reported sleeping near a small screen, with 65% of 7th graders and 46% of 4th graders reporting this behavior. Seventh graders reported getting 8.8 hours of sleep on a typical weekday, about an hour less than 4th graders (9.8 hours). Did sleeping near small screens affect sleep?  Yes!  Children who slept near a small screen slept 21 fewer minutes than children who never slept near a small screen. This finding was present regardless of whether the children had a TV in their room. Sleeping near a small screen also led to later bedtimes, which decreased sleep duration. This link between small screens and sleep was  stronger in non-Hispanic black children, compared to non-Hispanic white children. The researchers suggest that psychosocial stressors, including socio-economic status, neighborhood disorder, abuse, and other stressful life events that affect sleep may be more common among minorities included in the study population and may explain the stronger associations.

Not only are small screens associated with later bedtimes and shorter sleep durations, children who slept near small screens had more self-perceived insufficient sleep. While I couldn’t find recent research on smartphone use and sleep in adults, I keep my smartphone on my nightstand to use as an alarm clock.  I know I have later bedtimes as a result. I check alerts and emails right before I go to bed and first thing when I wake. Perhaps my goal for the new year should be to move my smartphone to another room. I’ll get to bed earlier, get more sleep, and in turn have more energy for physical activity!



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