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Electronic media use associated with shorter sleep in children

Using phones, tablets and other electronic media has been associated with shorter sleep in children and adolescents, in a systematic review published in BMC Public Health.

Sleep has a major impact on the health and wellbeing of children and adolescents, and insufficient sleep has been linked to negative physical and psychological implications. A team of researchers at the University of Southern Denmark reviewed 49 studies published between 2009 and 2019, with the studies involving between 55 and 369,595 children. They assessed the potential association of electronic media use, including media type and duration, with sleep patterns. The authors considered bedtime and sleep onset, sleep quality (waking up at night), sleep duration and daytime tiredness.

They found that electronic media use was associated with shorter sleep duration, and that the association was stronger in those aged between six to 15 years, than in children aged five and under. In children aged five and under, media use and shorter sleep were associated mainly with television and tablet use, while in those aged six to 15 years, this association was present with a wide range of different electronic medias such as video gaming, computer, mobile phone or smartphone, and internet use as well as television among those aged six to 12 years.

The authors also found evidence of an association between electronic media use in children aged six to 12 years and delayed bedtime and poor sleep quality. In adolescents aged 13 to 15 screen time was associated with problems falling asleep, and social media use with poor sleep quality.

The authors suggest that the interactive media predominantly used by adolescents may be overly stimulating, which may explain why there is more evidence for shorter sleep in this age group. In all age groups, exposure to blue light from screens may supress production of melatonin– the hormone that regulates sleep – thus leading to poorer sleep duration and disturbing the natural sleep-wake cycle.

Lisbeth Lund, lead author, said: “It is important that children and adolescents get sufficient sleep to avoid negative health consequences. We also understand that media is an important part of our lives. Our findings suggest that parents may wish to regulate how much their children are engaging with electronic media to potentially improve sleep.”

The 49 studies reviewed included participants from North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and other Western countries. The authors highlight that the sample is specific to these countries and may not be generalizable to other countries with different attitudes towards electronic media use and parenting styles. The authors also acknowledge that most of the included studies were observational and therefore did not allow for conclusions about cause and effect or the direction between the association of media use and sleep quality.


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Notes to editor:

1.    Research article:
Electronic media use and sleep in children and adolescents in western countries: a systematic review
BMC Public Health 2021
DOI: 10.1186/s12889-021-11640-9

The article is available at the journal website.

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