Sleep Disorders

08 March 2011

Technology linked to lack of sleep

Dependence on televisions, cell phones and laptops may be costing people, in lack of sleep warn experts.


Dependence on televisions, cell phones and laptops may be costing people, in lack of sleep.

The national penchant for watching television every evening before going to sleep, playing video games late into the night or checking emails and SMSs before turning off the lights could be interfering with the nation's sleep habits.

"Unfortunately, cell phones and computers, which make our lives more productive and enjoyable, may be abused to the point that they contribute to getting less sleep at night leaving millions of Americans functioning poorly the next day," Russell Rosenberg, the vice chairman of the Washington DC-based National Sleep Foundation (NSF), said in a statement.

Nearly 95% of people questioned in an NSF study said they used some type of electronics in the hour before going to bed, and about two-thirds admitted they do not get enough sleep during the week.

Artificial light to blame

Dr Charles Czeisler, of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said exposure to artificial light before going to bed can increase alertness and suppress the release of melatonin, a sleep-promoting hormone.

"Technology has invaded the bedroom," Dr Czeisler said. "Invasion of such alerting technologies into the bedroom may contribute to the high proportion of respondents who reported they routinely get less sleep than they need."

Baby boomers, or people aged 46-64 years old, were the biggest offenders of watching television every night before going to sleep, while more than a third of 13-18 year-olds and 28% of young adults ages 19 to 29 played video games before bedtime.

About 61% also said they used their computer or laptop at least a few nights each week.

A propensity to stay in touch means that even people who have managed to fall asleep are being woken up by cell phones, SMSs and e-mails during the night.

SMS interrupts sleep

"One in 10 kids report they are being awoken by SMS's after they have gone to bed. People don't turn off their Blackberries," said Dr Czeisler, adding that much of this is happening at the expense of sleep.

Generation Z'ers, 13-18 year olds, were the most sleep-deprived group, with 22% describing themselves as "sleepy," compared to only 9% of baby boomers.

Sleep experts recommend that teenagers get nine hours and 15 minutes of sleep a night but adolescents in the study were only averaging seven hours and 26 minutes on weeknights.

"I am the most concerned about how little sleep 13-18 years are getting," said Dr Czeisler. "Kids today are getting an hour and a half to two hours less sleep per night than they did a century ago. That means that they are losing about 50 hours of sleep per month."

Negative effects

People's lack of sleep is negatively impacting their work, mood, family, driving habits, sex lives and health, according to the NSF.

All age groups are coping by consuming caffeinated drinks - about 354 ml beverages per person - per day, and taking naps, sometimes more than one during the day.

"Parents should get these technologies out of the bedrooms of kids if they want them to do well (in school)," said Dr Czeisler.

(Reuters Health, Patricia Reaney, March 2011)

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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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