March 7, 2011 -- Devices meant to make life easier and more entertaining often make us sleepier, according to the latest poll by the National Sleep Foundation.
Sleep and technology don't mix, suggest the results of the 2011 Sleep in America poll. Using cell phones, computers, and video games just before bedtime -- and in the middle of the night, as teens and young adults say they often do -- is robbing many of much-needed shut-eye. That’s according to Russell Rosenberg, PhD, chair of the Sleep in America 2011 task force and director of The Atlanta School of Sleep Medicine and Technology.
''This year's poll really does focus on the technology and electronic devices people are using, devices that have become ubiquitous in our society," he tells WebMD.
Besides the focus on our sleep-squashing love affair with technology, the poll found that many Americans are not happy with the quality of their sleep. And our coping mechanisms? Not ideal.
The new sleep poll follows studies released last week by the CDC finding a third of adults in the U.S. get less than seven hours of sleep a day, thus putting themselves at risk for serious health problems.
Sleep Poll: 2011 Edition
The survey has been taken annually by the National Sleep Foundation since 1991. This year's survey included 1,508 responses, about half done by telephone and half online.
Respondents' ages ranged from 13 to 64, and they were categorized as:
- Generation Z: aged 13-18
- Generation Y: aged 19-29
- Generation X: aged 30-45
- Baby boomers: aged 46-64
The findings focused on:
Sleepiness. Teens are most likely to report sleepiness, the poll shows. About 22% of the teens got a ''sleepy'' rating when a standard assessment tool was used, as did 16% of the 19- to 29-year-olds. With age, the sleepy rating went down, but didn't disappear: 11% for people aged 30 to 45; and 9% for baby boomers.
Many said they never or rarely get a good night's sleep on weekdays -- ranging from 38% of boomers to 51% of people aged 19 to 29.
The average hours slept hovered around 7 hours for adults and a little more for teens. Teens averaged 7 hours, 26 minutes on a typical workday or school day; 19- to 29-year-olds got about 7 hours; 30- to 45-year-olds and boomers averaged a bit under 7 hours.
Sleep and Technology. Using electronic devices before bedtime was common, with 60% on average overall watching TV, 39% using cell phones, 36% laptops or other computers, 21% phone, 8% video games, and 29% music devices.
Sleep experts discourage screen time before bed, Rosenberg says. ''There are really two reasons for that," he says. "One has to do with the light exposures that people get with the computer screen [and other screens]. The light suppresses a hormone that is supposed to tell the brain it's time to sleep. And that hormone is melatonin."
The other reason? "Your sleep can be delayed because of the excitement of being involved with the computer [and other devices]," he says.
About one-fourth of those polled said they leave their cell phone ringers on at bedtime, and about 10% say they are awakened at least a few times a week in the middle of the night by phone calls, texts, or emails. That was reported more by younger respondents, including 18% of teens and 20% of people aged 19 to 29.
Drowsy Driving. Sleepiness took a toll on driving, the pollsters found, with drowsy driving surprisingly common.
Half of people aged 19 to 29 said they drove drowsy at least once in the past month. About one in 10 teens and 19 to 29-year-olds say they drive drowsy once or twice weekly.
Drowsy driving is blamed for more than 100,000 crashes annually, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, including 1,550 deaths.
Coping Methods. Excessive caffeine and naps were often reported as coping mechanisms for lack of sleep.
The average person on a weekday reported drinking about three 12-oz caffeinated beverages, with little variation among age groups.
''This is a reflection of coping with either sleep deprivation or a sleep disorder," Rosenberg tells WebMD.
Naps are another way the survey respondents said they try to combat lack of sleep. More than half of the generation Y and Z respondents reported at least one nap during the work week.
Sleep Poll: Second Opinion
This year's survey focuses on technology, and its effect on sleep is particularly important, says Michael J. Thorpy, MD, professor of clinical neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University and director of the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.
"A lot of the newer technologies we use involve the visual aspect," he tells WebMD. "Light is a very important factor when it comes to sleep and wake and circadian rhythms."
Staying away from bright screen light before bedtime is recommended, he says.
"The new thing here for me [from the survey] is that as we are moving into this highly technological age,” Thorpy says. “We are now starting to get information about the use of these technologies and the fact they will influence sleep-wake cycles."
Tips for Better Sleep
A better night's sleep is within your grasp, Rosenberg says. "If you could take the hour before bedtime and turn off the computer, the cell phone, and the TV, and engage in some better wind-down routines, it would be helpful for sleep."
Pick a wind-down routine that relaxes you, he says, such as reading or listening to music you find relaxing.
Another quick way to see sleep improvement? ''Avoid caffeine at night, even if you don't think it has an effect on your sleep," he says. The same goes for alcohol. It’s best to avoid both within three hours of bedtime, he says.