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Screen time before bed can disrupt sleep and nutrition in children

Study finds kids who use devices before bed are more likely to be obese

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Kids who use smartphones and other digital devices before bed may be at risk of suffering from sleep and nutrition problems, a new study suggests.

After surveying 234 parents of eight- to 17-year-olds about their kids’ technology use and sleep habits, researchers from the Penn State College of Medicine found that using technology before bed was linked with less sleep, poorer sleep quality, and more fatigue in the morning.

Additionally, young people who watched TV or used their cell phones before bed tended to have a higher body mass index (BMI). The researchers believe this may be because kids who engaged with screen media before bed were more likely to be tired in the morning and to skip breakfast -- two risk factors for obesity.

Sleep is critical

Kids who watched TV or played video games before bed got an average of 30 minutes less sleep than those who did not, while kids who used their smartphone or a computer before bed averaged an hour less sleep than those who did not.

In an interview with ConsumerAffairs, lead author and medical student Caitlyn Fuller said the results of the study showed a loop pattern between technology use, poor sleep, and higher BMIs.

“We saw technology before bed being associated with less sleep and higher BMIs,” Fuller said. “We also saw this technology use being associated with more fatigue in the morning, which circling back, is another risk factor for higher BMIs.”

Overweight and obese children were more likely to have trouble falling asleep and trouble staying asleep than their normal BMI counterparts, she added.

“The results of this study solidify some well-established data concerning childhood obesity – namely that children who watch more television and have a more sedentary lifestyle are more likely to have an overweight or obese BMI compared with those who are more active,” Fuller said.

Limiting technology use

Past studies have found that teens are particularly likely to struggle with technology addiction. This study suggested kids often have a difficult time self-regulating their screen time, which can take a toll on both the quality and quantity of sleep they get.

“When children were reported by their parents to use one form of technology at bedtime, they more than likely used another form of technology as well,” Fuller said.

Curbing technology use at bedtime can help “encourage childhood development and promote mental health during the childhood and adolescent years,” she said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents set boundaries for technology use, such as requiring kids to put away their devices during meal times and keeping phones out of bedrooms at night. For help creating a family media use plan, click here.

The full study has been published in the journal Global Pediatric Health.

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