Children who use gadgets or watch TV in the dark are at risk of poor quality sleep
05/12/2019 // Zoey Sky // Views

These days, more kids are getting used to playing on their own phones and gadgets instead of toys. While there are educational apps that are suitable for kids, an alarming study warns that letting preteens spend time on devices before bedtime negatively affects their sleep quality.

The study, which was published in the journal Environment International, was conducted by researchers from Birkbeck, University of London (Birkbeck), Imperial College LondonSwiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) in Switzerland, and the University of Lincoln.

The researchers found that preteens who use their mobile phones or watch TV in the dark at least one hour before bed are at risk of not getting enough sleep, unlike other preteens who use these devices in a well-lit room or those who don't use them at all before bedtime.

This study is the first to examine the joint effect of the pre-sleep use of media devices with screens and room lighting conditions on the sleep quality of pre-teens.

Preteen sleep quality and "screen time"

The results of the study suggest that the nighttime use of phones, laptops, and tablets is consistently linked to insufficient sleep, poor sleep quality, and poor quality of life. Researchers warned that this is a serious matter, especially since insufficient sleep is also associated with impaired immune responses, anxiety, depression, and obesity in both children and adolescents.

For the study, researchers collated data from 6,616 adolescents aged 11 and 12. Over 70 percent of the preteens reported that they use at least one screen-based device one hour before their bedtime.


The adolescents were instructed to self-report on various factors, which included:

  • Device use in both lit and darkened rooms
  • Their weekday and weekend bedtimes
  • How difficult they found it to go to sleep
  • Their wake up times

The study revealed that the preteens who used a phone or watched TV in a room with a light on were 31 percent more likely to get less sleep than those who didn't use a screen. However, the likelihood skyrocketed to 147 percent when they watched TV or used their phones in the dark. (Related: Kids who spend 4 hours a day on gadgets are twice as likely to get LESS sleep.)

About 90 percent of adolescents worldwide don't get the recommended nine to 11 hours of sleep per night. This percentage has coincided with an increase in the use of gadgets.

Earlier research suggests that sufficient sleep duration and quality are crucial during childhood to maintain physical and mental development. Sleep is also important for cognitive processes. Insufficient sleep is directly related to poor academic performance.

Dr. Michael Mireku, the study's lead author and a researcher at the University of Lincoln's School of Psychology, said that the study highlights the importance of good sleep quality for the health of preteens. Mireku noted that parents, teachers, health experts, and adolescents themselves need to know more about the potential health issues concerning screen use during bedtime, such as insufficient sleep and poor sleep quality.

Sleep tips for preteens

Everyone needs to get enough sleep every night to maintain their overall well-being. If your kids have trouble falling asleep, try some of the tips below to improve their sleep habits.

  • Set a bedtime. Be firm about their bedtime and stick with those times.
  • Include 20 to 30 minutes of quiet time in your kid's bedtime routine. Relaxing activities they can try are reading, listening to music, or writing in a journal. Dim the lights half an hour before their bedtime to help kids feel sleepy.
  • Avoid letting your kids sleep in late on weekends. This can make it harder for your child to keep a regular schedule during the week.
  • Teach your child healthy habits. When your kid has good lifestyle habits, they'll have an easier time going to bed and waking up at around the same time every day. Encourage your kids to exercise regularly, and limit their caffeine consumption (e.g., from energy drinks, soda, or tea) from the afternoon onward.

Set a good example for your kids and refrain from using your phone one hour before bedtime to teach them good sleeping habits.

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