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Waking Up On the Wrong Side of the Cell Phone

In late 2007 I wrote about the trend of putting televisions in kid's bedrooms. Now experts are expanding on that warning and suggest there are a plethora of gadgets besides "old school" TVs that keep young people from getting the sleep they need.

iPods and other music devices are joining TVs and video game consoles in the competition for space and attention in many adolescent bedrooms. Not only are kids using these devices late at night when they should be getting to bed, some even attempt to acquire a night's sleep with their gizmos still thumping out the latest tunes.

Perhaps even more concerning is the addiction for cell phones. Some teens report needing to keep their phone next to their pillow so they can immediately respond to middle-of-the-night text messages from their friends.

Health professionals, like Dr. Morris Bird who operates Florida Hospital's Center for Sleep Disorders, are concerned these technological distractions are leading a new generation to grow up on "junk sleep" (quoted from The Orlando Sentinel). He even goes as far as to suggest the loss of sleep has become an "epidemic."

Interestingly, this same concern is being voiced in the United Kingdom where The Sleep Council says "Junk sleep could soon rival junk food as a major lifestyle worry among parents of teenage children."

The UK organization's survey of 1,000 12 to 16-year-olds in mid 2007 found barely one in three (30%) were getting four to seven hours of sleep. At this age, the council recommends nine hours -- a number that corresponds with US research.

Once again, even on the other side of the ocean, it's electronics that are keeping eyelids open.  About one-in-four say they are falling asleep while watching TV or listening to music or other devices. Nearly every child (98.5%) has a phone, music device or TV in their bedroom and two thirds have all three. One in five even admits the gadgets are disrupting their sleep, yet only one in ten says they feel their quality of sleep affects their lives.

However, when teens were asked how they felt during the day in the same survey that record these denials, close to half said they generally felt tired.

While high on the list of items contributing to sleep problems, electronics and media devices are not the sole contributors to lack of sleep. "Worry" is a major issue for many teens in the UK survey, who say the upcoming day provides a wealth of things to dwell upon and contributes to restlessness.

Finally, perhaps there is a link between parental examples and childhood sleep patterns, as another separate and more recent UK survey has shown that eight out of ten adults are using high-tech devices just before bedtime or in bed while their partner is trying to sleep. The Sleep Council says the problem is getting to the point where many couples are choosing to sleep apart.

It would be short sighted to assume these same trends are not happening here in North America. I personally know young people who can text nearly as fast as I can type, and they consider their cell phones to be an essential aspect of their life. And I also know many adults who feel the need to answer just one more email on their Blackberry before turning in for the night.

Obviously we are at a point where we truly need to consider how our wired and wireless connections are impacting our lives. With the plethora of pocket-sized players and communicators flooding the marketplace, it's up to adults -- who have not grown up with these same distractions -- to help our children and teens learn to use technology to its greatest benefit.

Sleeping Tips for Teenagers (From The Sleep Council in the UK)

  • Try to impress on the teenager the importance of sleep and the need for at least eight to nine hoursí sleep on school nights.

  • Encourage regular exercise - 20 minutes three times a week will help.

  • Suggest a reduction of caffeine intake (in coke drinks as well as coffee).

  • Point out that eating too much or too little close to bedtime - an over full or empty stomach - may prevent sleep onset, or cause discomfort throughout the night.

  • Try and get the teenager into a going to bed routine - suggest that doing the same things in the same order before going to sleep can help.

  • Ensure a good sleep environment - a room that is dark, cool, quiet, safe and comfortable.

  • Make sure the teenager has a comfortable bed.  It may be time to get a new one - and encourage him or her to choose it themselves.

  • Donít give teenagers hand-me-down beds.  A good rule of thumb: if the bedís no longer good for its first user itís not good enough for a teenage child either.

To access the information on the organization's web sites mentioned in this article, go to The National Sleep Foundation (located in the US) or The Sleep Council (located in the UK).

Rod Gustafson

Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previewsģ - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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