One app is particularly bad for teenage sleep

By Cara Murez HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, September 13, 2022 (HealthDay News)

Many teens stare at screens at bedtime, but some apps are more likely to keep them awake than others, leading to sleep issues.

That’s the result of a new study in which researchers found that YouTube fans experienced consistent, negative effects on sleep. Surprisingly, traditional television was associated with earlier bedtimes.

“We’ve seen teenagers who have trouble sleeping in our clinic,” said co-author Michael Gradisar, head of sleep science at Sleep Cycle in Adelaide, Australia. “Many of them have tried abstaining from using technology, and it clearly hasn’t worked for them. Many of them have mentioned watching YouTube while they’re trying to fall asleep. They find it entertaining without being overly stimulating.”

While many studies have been done on the devices, little research has looked at the effects of specific apps on sleep, he said.

“We wanted to know if there were any specific apps people should avoid, so they can continue to use their devices in a healthy way that doesn’t affect sleep,” Gradisar said.

For the study, researchers asked more than 700 young people between the ages of 12 and 18 how much time they spent using technology. This included mobile phones, game consoles and television, as well as apps before going to bed and in bed before going to sleep.

While the study looked at streaming service Netflix as well as YouTube, YouTube was the only app consistently and negatively linked to sleep outcomes, the researchers said.

For every 15 minutes teens spend watching YouTube, they’re 24% more likely to get less than seven hours of sleep. Watching YouTube and using game consoles were both associated with a greater likelihood of not getting enough sleep.

Contrary to the classic advice to keep the television out of the bedroom, traditional television was associated with earlier bedtimes.

Gradisar said this could be because teenagers don’t interact with a TV the way they do with a phone. Instead, they just sit and watch.

Half an hour in bed using phones, laptops, tablets and watching YouTube delayed lights out by seven to 13 minutes.

The problem with YouTube in particular may be that it’s so easy to end a video and click on a related video, said Dr. Alon Avidan, director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center.

Even homework done on screens late at night can be harmful, added Avidan, who reviewed the results.

Watching Netflix was also associated with greater sleepiness during the day.

Gradisar said one takeaway for parents is that not all technology used before bedtime is bad for their teen. Mom and dad can also apply the findings to their own sleep health, he said.

“We often recommend people experiment with their own technology use before sleeping,” Gradisar said. “Find something enjoyable so you don’t develop a bad relationship with your bed or bedroom. The technology you use should be relaxing, but also know if it controls your bedtime.”

Avidan noted that adolescence brings a change in the sleep-wake rhythm.

“They go to bed late and tend to wake up late, and this delay in the circadian phase is really what has driven the call in several states, particularly here in California, to delay the start of school time,” did he declare.

Adding blue light from phones after 9 p.m. delays the sleep phase even further, Avidan said.

“If someone is already susceptible to delaying their circadian phase of going to bed and waking up because it’s physiological, when you add to that an environmental factor that makes it even worse, then it’s a perfect storm. “, did he declare.

Not getting enough sleep can be a pathway to depression, Avidan said. This can affect thinking skills and school performance. It may continue through college, affecting success and health.

He said it’s important for people to know how much sleep they need. For adults, it’s seven to eight hours a night. Teens under 18 need eight to 10 hours. And this sleep must be constant.

Depending on how it’s used, a phone can have different impacts on sleep, noted Rebecca Robbins, of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

A person might use a phone to email, meditate using a relaxation coaching app, or play a video game, all of which would have a different impact, she said.

“Young people face a myriad of sleep challenges,” said Robbins, who was not involved in the study. “We have dozens of data to show that the vast majority of high school students, young people in this age bracket of 12 to 18, the vast majority are not getting enough.”

At the same time, about 80% of American high schools start before 8 a.m., she noted.

If teens are optimally fatigued around midnight and still take a while to fall asleep, that further narrows the window of time for them to get deep, restful sleep, Robbins said.


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“This [deep sleep] will allow them to wake up and effectively manage their mood, avoid risky behaviors, maintain a positive and healthy attitude and mood,” she said, while avoiding short and long-term consequences of insufficient sleep.

High school is one of the last times parents and child live together, so it’s an opportunity for each other to develop rules that adults and children can live by, Robbins said.

For example, this could include practicing healthy relaxation activities at night, such as reading together, doing breathing exercises, or just talking about the day.

“Life, again, gets so busy, but really try to have a time when you’re off-screen, you can talk about things as a family,” Robbins suggested. “What happened in your day? What was good? What was difficult? [This] could not only provide mental health benefits, but also sleep benefits.”

The results appear in the December issue of the journal sleep medicine.

More information

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more information on sleep for middle and high school students.

SOURCES: Michael Gradisar, PhD, head of sleep science, Sleep Cycle AB, Adelaide, Australia; Alon Avidan, MD, MPH, director, UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, and professor of neurology, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, Los Angeles; Rebecca Robbins, PhD, MS, Researcher, Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, and Teacher, Harvard Medical School, Boston; sleep medicineDecember 2022

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