Screen time impairs sleep health for children, adolescents

Screen time — from smartphones to video games — has a negative impact on sleep health, according to a new report.

Screen time — from smartphones to video games — has a negative impact on sleep health, according to a new report. (Michelle Budge, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Parents struggling to figure out the impact of screen time on their children's sleep — and perhaps their own as well — have new help with the publication Wednesday of consensus statements from an international panel of sleep experts convened by the National Sleep Foundation.

The panelists considered the findings of 574 peer-reviewed studies on how smartphones and other digital screen devices impact sleep. Their findings are published in Sleep Health, the foundation's journal.

The group reached consensus on several key points, agreeing that:

  • In general, screen use impairs sleep health among children and adolescents.
  • The content of screen use before sleep impairs sleep health for children and adolescents.
  • Behavioral strategies and interventions may counter negative effects that screen use has on health.

"Upon review of the current literature, our panel achieved consensus on the importance of reducing pre-bedtime digital media to improve sleep health, especially for children and adolescents," a release from Stony Brook University quoted Lauren Hale, the consensus panel's chair and a professor in the Program of Public Health, and in the Department of Family, Population and Preventive Medicine at the Renaissance School of Medicine there. "We also identified the gaps in the literature and the need for future research."

But as researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder, who were also involved, said, "Notably, the group did not reach consensus on whether light from screens before bedtime impairs sleep for anyone."

The Colorado article said that "to provide a coherent, science-based public health message," the foundation had asked 16 experts to review more than 2,200 scientific articles about sleep health and screens and make recommendations. Those researchers "boiled the research down to 35 experimental studies and five systematic review articles. They met over a year to develop and vote on statements."

"There's a lot of research out there, but the messaging can be all over the place and people aren't sure how and for whom media use is actually causing sleep disruption," the paper's co-first author Lauren Hartstein, formerly a postdoctoral fellow in the Sleep and Development Lab at CU Boulder, said in a written statement.

The panel didn't reach a consensus on whether screen time, light or content impacts adults' sleep, either. Because their brains are fully matured and they have less "fear of missing out," as well as other social pressures that can be exacerbated by media on screens, compared to adolescents and teens, adults may not be as affected, she said.

While the consensus statements published in Sleep Health confirm the suspicion that screens directly impair sleep health, more important is what to do about it. The foundation offers some tips, including:

  • Not consuming stimulating or upsetting material near bedtime;
  • Creating relaxing bedtime routines that do not involve screens;
  • Putting time limits on screen use, especially as bedtime nears;
  • Having conversations with children about how screen time and tech can hurt the ability to get adequate, high-quality sleep;
  • Being a good example as a parent when it comes to modeling appropriate nighttime screen use;

Sleep is vital for everyone, but in March, the National Sleep Foundation reported on the "pivotal role" that adequate quality sleep plays in the well-being of teens. The foundation reported that its 2024 Sleep in America poll found the teens who get the recommended eight to 10 hours of sleep have "lower levels of depressive symptoms" — possibly in part because sleep helps regulate emotions and is a mood stabilizer.

Besides increasing depressive symptoms, inadequate sleep is linked to mood swings, irritability and emotional reactivity. "When people sleep poorly, they are more likely to interpret the world around them in a negative light," the article reported. It noted, too, that adequate sleep is "crucial for cognitive functioning and academic performance" during teenage years.

"Addressing screen use in youth really involves the whole family," said Hartstein. "It's important for parents to talk to children about how they use technology and how it could affect their sleep so they can build healthy habits that last a lifetime."

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Lois M. Collins
Lois M. Collins covers policy and research impacting families for the Deseret News.


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