Bedtime Texting, Emailing Affect Teens' Sleep

Study Shows Late-Night Emails and Texts Have an Impact on Quality of Teenagers’ Sleep

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on November 01, 2010

Nov. 1, 2010 -- Texting and emailing long after bedtime are common among children and teens, according to a new study, and could help explain why some are sleep-deprived the next day.

The 40 students studied sent, on average, 33.5 texts or emails per school night after bedtime -- from 10 minutes to four hours after ''lights out,"  says researcher  Peter G. Polos, MD, attending  physician at the JFK Medical Center sleep laboratory in Edison, N.J.

He is due to present his findings this week at CHEST 2010, the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians in Vancouver, British Columbia.

''It reaffirms my suspicion that the availability of these media to children can or will have a significant impact on their quality and quantity of sleep," Polos tells WebMD.

Teen Texting and Sleep

Polos and his colleagues asked the students, ages 8 to 22, with an average age of 14.5, who had come to the sleep clinic to complete a survey on sleep habits. "I realize it's a biased group, they are already coming in with sleep issues," he says.

More than 77% of the students had persistent problems getting to sleep, he says.

Polos found boys are more likely to surf the Internet and play games online after bedtime, while girls are more likely to use their cell phone or send text messages.

The 33.5 emails and texts -- the average number per person per school night -- were sent to about four people. The average number of awakenings per night due to media was one.

The average number  of  texts sent per month including weekend nights after bedtime was 3,404 per person, Polos found. “That number reflects a portion of children who were excessively using the media.”

The older the student, the more time he or she was likely to spend texting and emailing after bedtime.

"Most of the 40 students reported either learning, behavioral, or cognitive issues," Polos tells WebMD.

"This [emailing and texting] is more stimulatory than television, I think," says Polos.

A student sends a text and then has anticipation, wondering if the friend will answer. This is not conducive to teen sleep, Polos says. Those playing games may be tempted to continue playing to improve their score, he says.

The pilot study, Polos says, suggests that bedtime media use "may have an adverse impact on sleep hygiene and daytime function which may be significant."

The study didn't prove cause and effect between late-night texting and emailing and impairments in daytime functioning, Polos says.

But, he says, a student with a learning disability, for instance, who is also sleepy probably won't be performing at school at his best.

Electronics-Free Bedtimes

The study findings make sense, says Meir Kryger, MD, director of sleep research and education at Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, Conn., who reviewed the findings for WebMD. "This study is actually completely consistent with what we see clinically."

"This is a real problem with kids," he says of the after-bedtime media use, "but also a real problem with some adults."

His advice to parents: "Get rid of the electronics entirely for one or two hours before bedtime," he says. The use of media such as cell phones and laptops should be outlawed once kids are in bed, he says.

If your child has a computer in his room, Kryger says, it should be turned off at bedtime.

This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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Peter G. Polos, MD, PHD, attending physician, JFK Medical Center sleep laboratory, Edison, N.J.; vice president and respiratory therapeutic head, i3 Research, Basking Ridge, N.J.

CHEST 2010 annual meeting, Oct. 30-Nov. 4, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Meir Kryger, MD, director, Sleep Research and Education, Gaylord Hospital, Wallingford, Conn.

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