Sleep Disorders

Updated 17 October 2014

Electronics tied to poor sleep and school performance

Electronic devices can keep kids up at night and impact their school performance, experts say.


Electronic devices can keep kids up at night and should be banned from the bedroom, according to experts from Stony Brook Children's Hospital in New York.

Devices like tablets, smartphones and video games can prevent children and teens from falling asleep, which can have a negative effect on their school performance. Even if kids are not using them, backlit electronics can interfere with a good night's sleep, the experts said.

Read: Active lifestyle may boost school performance

"The burst of light from a phone [even if it's just to check the time] can break a sleep cycle," Dr. Jill Creighton, an assistant professor of paediatrics at Stony Brook, said in a university news release. "A regular alarm clock is best," she added.

Children's sleep needs

Although every child may have different sleep needs, the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends that preschoolers get about 11 to 12 hours of sleep each day. Meanwhile, school-age children should sleep at least 10 hours per day. Although adults need about seven or eight hours of sleep, teens still need nine to 10 hours of sleep daily.

Almost 72 percent of young people between 6 and 17 years old have at least one electronic device in their bedroom, according to a National Sleep Foundation survey. Kids who leave these devices on during the night sleep up to one hour less on average each night, the group found.

Read: Sleep quality affects kids' academic performance

There are some steps parents and caregivers can take to help kids "unplug" at night and get a good night's sleep. Creighton provided the following tips:

  • Establish a bedtime routine. Consistently taking a bath, reading a book or listening to soothing music before bed will help your child relax and go to sleep.
  • Turn electronics off. One hour before bedtime, all electronic devices should be turned off. It's a good idea to have kids plug in electronic devices at a specific charging station that is not in the bedroom. No devices should be brought into their room at night.
  • Gradually decrease screen-time. Kids who do not want to turn off their electronics at night should decrease their use of these devices over time. "Reduce screen time by 30 minutes or more each week until you reach your goal," advised Creighton. "A good rule of thumb is try to limit recreational screen time to 60 minutes every day. And for every 30 minutes of screen time, make sure your kids get 30 minutes of physical activity."
  • Increase physical activity. "It's sometimes hard to get kids off the couch and get them moving, especially if they think of physical activity as 'exercise' or 'boring'," notes Creighton. "Parents, get creative and make moving fun for kids." Some suggestions to help get kids more active, include a family walk, playing basketball, going for a bike ride, and even giving kids more allowance for doing physically active chores, such as vacuuming or raking leaves.
  • Ban electronic devices at mealtime. Being distracted during meals can lead to unnecessary screen-time, bad habits or overeating.
  • Lead by example. When it comes to screen-time, it's also important for parents to be a good role model.

Read more:

Is social media healthy?
Teens' friends influence school performance
Violent TV affects child's sleep

Image: Tired young man from Shutterstock

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Sleep disorders expert

Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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