How much has information and communication technology (ICT) affected our lives? Researchers say that the average teenager sends a total of over 3,400 electronic [text] messages every month or surfs the Internet at bedtime. Could texting and bedtime web time influence the severity of your child’s ADHD symptoms?
In a study by the JFK Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey, and presented at the 76th annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP), lead author Dr Peter G. Polos and his team found that more than half of these bedtime kiddy texters or web surfers are not only prone to have problems falling asleep, but experience mood, behavior and cognitive problems during the day.
“It is significant that these children are engaging in stimulating activity when they should be in an environment to promote sleep,” says Polos.
Polos’ team analyzed questionnaire responses from 40 children and young adults aged between 8 and 22. This is a small group and the results must be considered preliminary. However, the researchers found that those who used electronic technology at bedtime (texting, game playing, email, surfing, etc.) also experienced sleep-related problems such as excessive movements, leg pain and insomnia, and also had a “high rate of daytime problems, which can include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], anxiety, depression, and learning difficulties,” said Polos.
According to Medical News Today (www.medicalnewstoday.com), the analysis of the questionnaire data showed that:
* 77.5 per cent of the participants had persistent problems falling asleep.
* On average, participants were woken once per night by an ICT device.
* On average, a participant sent 33.5 emails or texts per night when they were supposed to be asleep; and the average number of people texted each night was 3.7.
* The average number of messages sent via ICT per person per month at sleep time was 3,404 and occurred over periods ranging from 10 minutes to 4 hours after bedtime.
* Among the adolescent participants, the older they were, the later they went to bed, and the more time they spent with their ICT devices at bedtime.
* Boys were more likely to use ICT to surf the net and play online games, while girls were more likely to text and make cell phone calls.
* High rates of cognitive and mood problems during the day were linked with sleep time related use of ICT, including ADHD, anxiety, depression, and learning difficulties.
* There were also higher rates of nighttime problems such as excessive movements, leg pain and insomnia.
Polos and colleagues concluded that use of ICT at bedtime may have “an adverse impact on sleep hygiene and daytime function which may be significant”, and that questions about this should be included in routine evaluations of patients reporting problems sleeping.
“These data suggest that further studies are needed to evaluate the short and long term consequences of STRICT on sleep,” they wrote.
Polos explained that “sleep is largely habitual in nature”, and if “children begin this type of behavior, they may set themselves up for the need for external stimulation before sleep later in life”.
This could lead to problems like difficulty falling asleep, not having enough sleep, and feeling sleepy during the day, he said adding that:
“More research is needed to determine all of the short- and long-term consequences.”
Many parents know that healthy sleep habits are especially important to ensure progress at school and healthy development, and are concerned about how best to handle the growing problem of ICT devices in the bedroom.
Polos said that using cell phones or computers, to talk, text, surf the net, or play games, is “more addictive, seductive, and interactive than passively watching television,” because of the graphics, rapid responses and interactivity.
“The sooner parents establish appropriate times for children to use this technology, the better,” he urged, adding that perhaps they should also “move key items, such as computers, from a child’s bedroom into a common area”.
Dr David Gutterman, President of the American College of Chest Physicians said concern about insomnia and other sleep disorders in children is growing and that “research shows that the problem is increasing, so it is more important than ever for physicians to ask questions about technology use when evaluating children for sleep issues”.