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Gadgets Keep Teens Up at Night

Many Teens Who Use Electronic Devices at Night Don't Get Enough Sleep, Study Says
By Caroline Wilbert
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 26, 2009 -- It's not just about turning off your kid’s television anymore.

A new study shows that many teens are not getting adequate sleep, and this deficiency is especially common among teens who use electronic devices -- such as computers, cell phones, and televisions -- at night.

The study, published in Pediatrics, included 100 participants aged 12 to 18 who were in middle school and high school. Participants were recruited during their wellness exam visits at a pediatrics office in suburban Philadelphia. They filled out a questionnaire on their own, while parents filled out a separate form with demographic information.

Each participant was assigned a multitasking index, based on their answers to questions about how much time after 9 p.m. they spent with various electronic devices. The majority of participants used some form of technology in the nighttime hours.

  • 82% reported watching television after 9 p.m.
  • 55%  reported being online
  • 44% reported talking on the phone
  • 42% reported listening to an MP3 player
  • 36% reported watching movies
  • 34% reported text messaging
  • 24% reported playing computer games

On average, participants engaged in four technology activities. The average multitasking rating was the equivalent of a teen doing one activity for 5.3 hours or doing four activities for one hour and 20 minutes each.

Researchers found a significant correlation between the multitasking index and sleep. Teens getting eight to 10 hours of sleep per night tended to have a lower multitasking index. Teens with a high multitasking index also drank more caffeine. Of the 85% of adolescents who reported drinking caffeine, 11% reported drinking the equivalent of four espressos a day.

Across the board, only 20% of the adolescents obtained the recommended eight to 10 hours of sleep. Those getting inadequate sleep were more likely to fall asleep during class. Although caffeine consumption tended to be lower in the group getting a good night’s sleep, that correlation did not reach statistical significance.

In their conclusion, the researchers call for more study on the complex relationship between teen sleep, caffeine consumption, electronics usage, and early school starts.

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