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New Research Finds that Children Sleep Less if Media Devices Are In The Bedroom

We know from previous research reported on happychild that use of technology devices can negatively impact the sleep of teenagers. This new research from Finland studied an even younger population of school-aged children and concluded that computer use, television viewing, and the presence of media in children’s bedrooms may reduce the amount of time children are sleeping, and delay bedtimes. And they found gender differences–among boys, having  a television and a computer in the bedroom predicted poorer sleep habits and irregularity of sleep habits.

With media devices more prevalent than ever in households and used increasingly by students, their impact on children’s sleep is a continuing area of research. We know that study habits impact  teen’s sleep and that insufficient sleep has adverse health outcomes for growing children and adolescents. This research, by Dr Teija Nuutinen and colleagues at Folkhälsan Research Centre, Finland, studied the sleep habits of 353 children between the ages of 10 and 11 years old who used a computer or watched television, then followed them up 18 months later to see if their media use was associated with long-term sleep habits.

Sleep habits were assessed as bedtimes and wake-up times on school days and at weekends. After 18 months, boys and girls were found to sleep less on school days (girls slept less than boys) but not at weekends. By studying the simultaneous use of media, the researchers found that boys were more likely to have a television and a computer in their bedrooms than girls, and boys used computers more than girls.

At the 18-month follow-up, children who initially used the computer for one hour per day and watched television for over one hour a day showed significantly shorter sleep duration and later bedtimes on school days and weekends – the more media use a child had, the greater the decrease in sleep and delay in bedtime. A computer in the bedroom predicted later bedtimes on weekends. Among boys, having a television and a computer in the bedroom predicted poorer sleep habits and irregularity of sleep habits. Girls appeared to be adversely affected by having a television, not a computer, in the bedroom.

The researchers say these longitudinal findings are significant for parents, teachers and health care providers who are monitoring children’s sleep and functioning. Other research tells us that insufficient sleep can contribute to problems such as:

  • Poor behaviour – at school, home and work
  • More extreme moodiness– irritability and low tolerance for frustration
  • More conflict in social interactions
  • Difficulty problem-solving
  • Decreased attention span
  • Reduced creativity
  • Less effective memory

This longitudinal study adds the dimension of  connecting media in the bedroom to sleep habits. Because its presence in the bedroom was found to be related to irregular sleep habits, the researchers advise parents to assess media use when considering their child’s sleep and health  habits.

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