Teenagers, technology, and sleep: Decoding the impact of screen time

Practically every parent faces the challenge of setting screen-time limits for their kids, especially during after-school hours and holidays. Whether it’s gaming, texting, or scrolling through TikTok, these beloved activities often revolve around the glow of a phone, iPad, TV, or computer screen. However, putting these rules into practice is easier said than done.

A growing body of research has found strong connections between sleep, mental well-being, and screen usage in teenagers and tweens (children between the ages of 10 and 12).

The vicious cycle of mental health problems and sleeplessness

About 1 in 7 children and adolescents aged 4 to 17 have recently experienced a mental health disorder in Australia. The most common disorder is ADHD, followed by anxiety, depression and conduct disorder. To exacerbate this mental health crisis, teens are also grappling with insufficient sleep.

It’s a vicious cycle. Both sleep deprivation and intense engagement with social media and video games before bedtime can worsen or even trigger anxiety and depression, demanding timely intervention. 

Studies across the world involving more than 120,000 youth aged 6 to 18 years who engage in any sort of social media have repeatedly shown worsened quality and decreased quantity of sleep. This is happening across the globe, not just in Australia.

As a pharmacist and mother, Jenny Heathershaw (proprietor of Heathershaw’s) has routinely observed the detrimental effects of excessive screen time, especially on social media, which not only disrupts sleep but also takes a toll on the physical and mental well-being of our young ones.

Why is this cycle so hard to break?

Research overwhelmingly indicates that the drawbacks of social media outweigh the benefits. Firstly, the pull of using social media often takes up valuable time that should be dedicated to sleep.

Secondly, the light emitted by most handheld devices, even with nighttime filters, like blue light filters, can interfere with the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for signaling the body to sleep. 

When melatonin release is disrupted due to prolonged screen exposure, falling asleep becomes more challenging. Although melatonin supplements may help some individuals, they can’t counteract the stimulating effects of content and artificial light. 

Thirdly, the content consumed by young people poses a significant issue. Viewing fast-paced content, like that found on platforms like TikTok or in video games, before bedtime disrupts the brain and body, making it more difficult to transition into a sleep-friendly state. Not only that, it can be very disruptive to the overall quality and quantity of sleep.

How does chronic sleep deprivation impact teens?

Sleep recharges the body and brain to stay sharp and focused during school hours.

Experts recommend that teenagers should aim for a solid eight to ten hours of sleep each night. But here’s the kicker: just a measly one out of every five high schoolers even comes close to hitting that sleep target.

Teens who don’t get enough sleep may find themselves struggling in school, and having trouble staying organised. Teens don’t have fully formed frontal lobes, the part of the brain that controls impulse and judgment. When you throw sleep deprivation into the mix, it’s like adding extra weight to an already shaky seesaw. 

Sleep deprivation isn’t just about nodding off in class; it’s got long-term side effects. It could lead to health problems such as high blood pressure and the development of diabetes in adulthood. Plus it’s also linked to teenage obesity. 

The way forward

Setting achievable screen-time goals is the key. Experts also recommend steering clear of screens for at least an hour before bedtime and keeping devices out of the bedroom.

For older kids who have online homework to complete, adhering to the no-screen rule right before bed can seem nearly impossible. So if one hour before bedtime is too stringent, then start by avoiding media for even 15 or 30 minutes prior to going to sleep, and extend the period of time progressively. Or try encouraging them to watch something passive, like a good old fashioned TV drama (yes, good luck with that), rather than engaging in social media apps like Snapchat or TikTok.

It’s essential to remember that you don’t have to make all the changes at once – small, gradual adjustments can have a significant impact over time.

Parents should also make sleep a top priority for the whole family and demonstrate healthy screen time practices themselves. Lead by example!  We often end up sending conflicting signals about screen time given our own bad habits. 

If your child is suffering from sleep deprivation, It’s also important to seek professional help because it’s often hard to improve things on our own. 

Opinions or facts expressed within the content have been sourced from various news sources. While every effort has been taken to source them accurately, the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates do not take any responsibility for errors in these sources. Patients should not rely on the facts or opinions in the content to manage their own health, and should seek the advice of an appropriate medical professional. Further, the opinions or facts in the content do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates. 

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *