Effects of Technology on Teenage Sleep Patterns
For as long as I have had personal electronic devices, be it my cellphone, my iPod,
or my Xbox, my mother has always been strict about how late I am allowed to stay awake
using them and how many hours a day I am on them. This frustrated me growing up, but I
now see the benefits of these limitations. These limitations have lessened now that it is
my senior year, and I often stay up finishing homework and other scholarships. I have
felt the effects of losing sleep, and I know that I am not alone. Many teenagers stay
up late on their phones and play on their video game consoles. The lack of quality
sleep due to modem technology leads to poor productivity in school and being
excessively tired for most of the day.
According to the Sleep Health Foundation, interactive, rather than passive
technologies, can make it harder for teenagers to go to sleep. Passive
technologies, like radios and e-books, do not require much work from those
using it. Interactive technologies, like video games or texting, require the
user to concentrate heavily on what they are doing. Studies have shown
that those who use technology typically have later bedtimes most likely
because, while using technology, it is harder for the brain to recognize
sleepiness. The reason behind this is that blue light, which comes from
the majority of screens, prevents the production of the chemical melatonin,
which controls the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is basically the
body's internal clock, and exposure to blue light, especially after the
sun goes down, slows the secretion of melatonin. This tricks the body
into thinking that it needs to stay awake; blue light is known to
benefit reaction times and attention spans. Studies have even shown
correlation between blue light and obesity, diabetes, heart disease,
and cancer (Harvard Health Publishing). One well known effort to
reduce blue light exposure at night is the "Night-Shift" feature
on iPhones. The feature adds an orange/red tint to the screen from sunset
to sunrise, making the blue light itself less intense. While this is a
great excuse for people to use their phones late at night, taking a
break from electronics would yield much better results.
Cellphones and other electronics in the bedroom not only prevent the amount
of sleep, but the quality as well (National Sleep Foundation). Video games, more
specifically, have much more intense effects. A study in 2012 by Flinders
University noted that playing video games at night reduces the amount of sleep
one can get. Those who played video games for 150 minutes or more lost about
twenty seven minutes of sleep each night, as well as twelve minutes of REM sleep,
which is the most important stage of the sleep cycle (Carbone). Most adults spend
about twenty percent of their time sleeping in REM sleep, and this is where
dreams occur. The purpose of dreams is still up for debate, but the leading theory
is that dreams are a way of the brain processing emotions, stress, and memories
(Azumio). Playing video games before going to bed not only stops the amount of
time given for dreaming, but changes the dreams themselves. Playing violent video
games, which is the majority of video games played by high schoolers, provides more
control over lucid dreams. Jayne Gackenbach, the leading scientist in the study of
how video games affect dreaming, states "The major parallel between gaming and dreaming
is that, in both instances, you're in an alternate reality, whether a biological
construct or a technological one. It's interesting to think about how these alternate
realities translate to waking consciousness, when you are actually reacting to inputs
from the real world". Gamers have been found to switch points of view, act without
fear, and, most importantly, not see nightmares for what they are while sleeping (Drummond).
Video games have an enormous effect on how teenagers dream, and while the results have
not been fully examined as positive or negative, it simply is not natural. The disruption
of the REM stage of the circadian rhythm leaves gamers tired, unmotivated, and unfocused
while they are awake. Spending too much time in a virtual reality is preventing students
from reaching their full potential in the outside world.
In my personal experience, I know kids in my classes who are always tired at school because
of late night gaming habits. Most of these gamers do not go to bed until after midnight, some
staying up past two or three o'clock AM on a regular basis. With my school's first period
classes starting shortly after eight AM, the recommended hours of sleep is not achievable.
Teenagers actually have a higher amount of recommended sleep than other ages, which cannot be
upheld with homework, sports, club activities, jobs, or the procrastination from which all
teenagers suffer. Through several studies, the recommended amount of sleep for a teenager has
been determined to be nine and a half hours, meaning that the overwhelming majority of high
schoolers suffer from chronic sleep deprivation. Studies from The Journal of Adolescent Health
show that only eight percent of teenagers get their nine and a half hours of sleep in every night.
Twenty three percent get about six hours of sleep a night, and ten percent average at five hours or
less (Garey). In order to sleep for at least nine and a half hours, my peers would need to fall
asleep by ten o'clock PM to awake at seven thirty AM in order to get to class on time. Keeping
up a gaming habit, doing homework, other extracurricular activities, and being able to sleep for
nine and a half hours is not a realistic goal; there is no room for gaming in the life of the average
The sleep cycle of teenagers is changing as they grow even without outside disruptions; the addition
of technology adds even more to the strain on the body. A study by Mary Carskadon, professor of psychiatry
at Brown University and director of chronobiology and sleep research at Bradley Hospital in Providence,
Rhode Island, observed teenagers having narcolepsy-esque symptoms in the morning (ie. falling asleep in
class), which is a clear sign of lack of REM sleep. This is exasperated due to homework being done on
computers. When receptors in the eye come in contact with blue light, they signal the brain to slow the
production of the chemical melatonin and keeps teens from feeling tired. Adolescents are low on melatonin
in the first place, and the teenage brain starts producing melatonin at a later time than other ages. Dr.
Van Gilder, pediatrician, says he's seen adolescent bedtimes pushed back an hour to an hour and a half over
the years since teens started doing their homework on computers. The average bedtime for Van Gilder's patients
is now twelve thirty AM (Garey). Technology is simply not a entertaining facet of teenagers' lives, it is a
necessity. This makes the issues even harder to combat, but there are a few solutions that can begin to
nullify the effects of technology on teenage sleep cycles.
As with most teenage habits, prevention starts at home. Parents that recognize their
child suffering from sleep deprivation, or if their grades are falling, should do what
they can to make their child go to sleep earlier and without electronics. My mother has
always made me charge my phone overnight in the kitchen rather than my room, which
prevents me from staying up talking to my friends. I have never had a television in
my room, and I have never been allowed to play video games during the week. More strict
rules at home, both enforced and displayed by the parents, will help teenagers develop
more healthy sleep habits and reduce the amount of sleep lost due to playing with electronics.
Publicity will help this issue as well, as many students do not realize how much of a toll technology
takes on their sleep patterns, or the importance of a good night's sleep on their physical and mental health.
Technological interference with sleep that leads to poor productivity and excessive lethargy does not have to be
a problem. A further understanding of how staying up late on cell phones and video game consoles will allow students
and parents to make informed choices on the best way to integrate technology and become more receptive of all that
happens in everyday life. This knowledge will assist teenagers in making better choices regarding their sleep needs
when they are living on their own
"Blue light has a dark side." Harvard Health, Harvard Medical School, May 2012, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side.
Carbone, McKinley. "This is how video games can screw up your sleep." Sleep Junkies, Sleep Junkies, 20 Aug. 2016, sleepjunkies.com/blog/video-games-sleep-habits/.
Drummond, Katie. "Video games change the way you dream." The Verge, The Verge, 21 Jan.