[Post published on the occasion of World Sleep Day 2018, celebrated on March 16th.]
Between 20 and 40% of adolescents suffer from poor sleep qualitySleep is an important part of our daily routine. We spend a third of our time sleeping. But, why is it so important? Good quality sleep is essential to conserve energy, promote growth and support mental development, especially during childhood and adolescence. In addition, adequate sleep is essential for optimal daytime functioning and well-being. However, between 20 and 40% of adolescents suffer from poor sleep quality, which has been associated with attention problems, mental problems, an increase in accidents, obesity and the risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. At ISGlobal, a research center promoted by the "la Caixa" Foundation, we are carrying out a study on the relationship between sleep quality and the use of telecommunication and screen devices in adolescents.
The use of these new technologies may be affecting the sleep of the population by displacing bedtimeThe sleep patterns of adolescents are influenced by hormonal changes occurring during puberty, lifestyle (e.g., physical activity, diet, alcohol and tobacco consumption and telecommunication and screen devices use), social factors (e. g., school starting time) and environmental factors (e.g., noise, light and temperature). There is increasing concern that the use of telecommunication and screen devices, including both passive screen devices (e.g. television) and interactive screen devices (e.g. computers, laptops, phones, tablets, or video game consoles) are detrimental to sleep.
Image: Alyssa L. Miller
Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emitted by these devices affect the brain waves related to restorative sleepFour potential mechanisms have been suggested. The use of these new technologies may be affecting the sleep of the population by displacing bedtime. We watch television until late at night or in bed and this makes us go to sleep at later hours, so we sleep less because the alarm clock sounds the next morning at the same time. In addition, chatting on the mobile phone with friends, watching videos, connecting to social networks or playing video games leads to levels of mental arousal not indicated for falling asleep properly. Another mechanism that has been described is overexposure to the "blue light" emitted by screen devices that alters our sleep/wake cycle by interfering with the release of melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleep, producing a longer waking state. Recently, experimental studies have shown that radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emitted by these devices affect the brain waves related to restorative sleep.
Overexposure to the "blue light" emitted by screen devices that alters our sleep/wake cycleThe total time spent using screen devices and the numbers of devices we have in our bedroom, an indicator of their increased use near bedtime, have been associated with poor sleep quality. Television has been the most studied device to date and higher use has been associated with fewer hours of sleep. In 2017 in Spain, 25% of children had a mobile phone at 10 years of age and 94% at age 15, clearly indicating that the use of a mobile phone increases drastically between childhood and adolescence. This is important in terms of public health, since it shows that early can promote a proper use of these devices and help reduce future problems related to the inadequate use of telecommunication and screen devices. Technology evolves very fast and new studies are continuously needed to better understand how devices, and especially interactive devices, affect the sleep of children and adolescents.
Image: Pixabay / RawPixel
Based on current literature, it is important to promote good sleep quality through the adequate use of telecommunication and screen devices by following some simple recommendations:
- Reduce the use of television, mobile phones, tablets, computers or video game consoles a few hours before bedtime.
- Reduce the number of telecommunication and screen devices in the bedroom.
- Use screen protectors on screen devices to reduce exposure to blue light.