Photo by Donald Iain Smith/Getty Images
Having a smartphone in a child’s bedroom translates to less sleep, more fatigue, and later bedtimes, according to a new study. Researchers at UC Berkeley found that kids who slept in the same room as a cellphone, smartphone or iPod touch — what they call “small screens” — got almost 21 minutes fewer sleep than those who didn’t. They also went to bed, on average, 37 minutes later than those without phones in their rooms. (Those who slept in the same room as a TV, meanwhile, got only 18 minutes fewer sleep; the TVs were also associated with a 31-minute delay in bedtime.)
In the study of more than 2,000 fourth and seventh graders, published Monday, 54 percent said they slept near a smartphone. “Small screens are especially concerning because they are a portal to social media, videos and other distractions, and they emit notifications that can disrupt sleep,” Dr. Jennifer Falbe, a postdoctoral research fellow at UC Berkely and the lead author of the study, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Parents should keep screen media out of bedrooms, limit screen time, and set a curfew of an hour before bedtime.”
Falbe says her recommendations are based on the overall literature that excessive screen media can be harmful to children’s health. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids spend no more than one to two hours a day on recreational screen time, which Falbe says is a good rule of thumb.
Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, says it’s important that parents help their children develop healthy screen practices, especially at night. “There are important times in the day to be connected, and important times to be disconnected. The evening, especially an hour before it’s time to go to sleep, is a time to remove screens from the bedroom,” Steiner-Adair tells Yahoo Parenting. “The easiest and safest place for everyone to keep and charge phones overnight is in parents’ bedroom closets.” That’s a place where kids who have the hardest time disconnecting can’t get to in the middle of the night, she says, whereas the kitchen or the living room are more accessible.
“Kids need to learn to deal with fear of missing out and they need to learn to give their brains a real rest,” Steiner-Adair says. “Sleep is so important, and having that phone next to the bed — when they get up to go to the bathroom, they check it, which can lead to 10 minutes or two hours online. Their psychological dependency on the phone is increased if they have it with them all the time.”
Steiner-Adair says that when parents buy their children smartphones, they should establish a responsible-use contract, which includes rules about when it is and is not ok to use the phone. “It should also establish what the phone is and is not for — it’s not for spreading rumors and posting embarrassing photos of people, for example,” she says. “You should set expectations like ‘when I call you or text you, you need to call me back,’ ‘you hand the phone over to us before bedtime,’ and ‘you can’t use this for texting or talking while you’re crossing the street.’”
As for the fact that smartphones negatively affected sleep more than TV, Steiner-Adair isn’t surprised. “We don’t have the same emotional connection to a TV, or the same expectations from a TV,” she says. “We don’t check our TV for email or a new Instagram post. When we watch TV, the intensity of the response is totally different.”
More than anything, parents need to be thoughtful about the entire family’s phone use, Steiner-Adair says. “Make sure there are times when your family experiences extended time with a break from tech so none of you feels like you can’t go without it,” she says. “That goes for the parents as much as the kids.”