Technology affects sleep for students


Last updated 9/13/2019 at 10:57pm

Susan Newcome

Special to Village News. It's back to school season and parents often worry about their students sleep habits. Below is a compiled list of the most important statistics and takeaways for parents for healthy sleep.

It's 2019, and tech runs the world. Students' lives have become fully integrated with technology.

For a younger generation, technology represents relationships, hobbies, and increasingly, ways to wind down before bed.

Many parents have said that they enforce boundaries on how many hours per day of video games their children can play and where smartphones and tablets must be kept during the night hours.

Aside from behavioral considerations, technology use can have an effect on their students' sleep patterns. According to recent studies, there are a couple of factors at play:

Blue light is emitted from the screens of handheld and entertainment devices, impacting melatonin production.

Low level anxiety and stress hormones from increased cortisol are associated with always-on connectivity.

BOLD - Blue light impacts melatonin production.

Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. The sleep-wake cycle is driven by several factors, but the most notable one is light. When the sun goes down and it gets dark outside, people's eyes send a signal to the hypothalamus, which in turn, sends a signal to their body to begin releasing melatonin.

The longer they inhibit and delay the release of melatonin, the harder it is to fall asleep at night.

Blue light is the strongest and brightest wavelength. When the brain senses blue light it responds similarly to sunlight, and if someone is exposed to blue light before bed, it delays the production of melatonin and sleep.

One of the issues with cell phones and tablets in particular is that people typically hold them closer to their face, subjecting users to more intense doses of blue light.

A study by the National Sleep foundation found that 95% of people report using an electronic device with a screen within an hour of bedtime.

Parents' estimates of sleep time are 8.9 hours for children ages 6-10, 8.2 hours for 11-12 year olds, 7.7 hours for 13-14 year olds and 7.1 hours for teens ages 15-17.

The National Sleep Foundation recommended that children 6-10 get 10-11 hours of sleep, and children 11 and older get 8.5 to 9.5 hours per night.

Another study shows that children using electronics before bed as a way to relax and prepare for sleep experience fewer hours of sleep per week than their counterparts.

Below is a chart showing the relationship between duration of usage, by device category and resulting sleep time:

BOLD - Anxiety and cortisol are related to cellphone use.

Most people can remember a time when they were waiting for a phone call or text message and they couldn't stop checking the phone. If anyone has been camping, or otherwise off the grid recently, they can probably identify with having the fear of missing out. After being always on and always connected, it can be downright uncomfortable not to have a signal.

It's more than just a thought pattern, it's physiological too. In 2016, researchers at California State University recruited 700 college students for a study that sought to understand technology usage, anxiety and dependence, and the relationship between them and sleep.

The researchers found that the college students felt so anxious about being away from their phones that they experienced increased nighttime awakenings and increased smartphone usage in the days that followed.

Technology dependence aside, people have also become so accustomed to real-time notifications that even when they put away their phones, they're still tuned in and alert, waiting for any vibration or notification.

Additional research has shown that 22% of Americans sleep with their phone ringers on sound level 5. Couple that with the fact that 72% of children ages 6-17 have at least one electronic device in their bedroom while sleeping.

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