A meta-analysis of existing research suggests that cell phones and tablets before bedtime may affect children’s sleep quantity and quality.


An abundance of research confirms the important role that sleep plays in children’s physical, psychological and social development. In addition, lack of sufficient sleep, or poor quality sleep, can be a contributing factor leading to problematic lifestyle issues like poor diet, sedentary behaviour, and substance abuse, as well as health issues including depression, reduced immunity and stunted growth.

Despite awareness of these concerns, a large proportion of children and adolescents fail to get enough sleep. Surveys indicate that 75 percent of 17 to 18-year-olds in the United States report not having enough sleep, and this figure is in line with findings from other developed nations. Factors thought to contribute to this problem include use of electronic media, early school start times, and increasing consumption of caffeine at younger ages.

To better understand the impact of portable electronics on sleep habits in young people, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of existing scientific literature dealing with access to or use of devices such as cell phones and tablets in the sleep environment. The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, suggests a significant association between bedtime use of electronic devices and poor or inadequate sleep.

To collect data, researchers conducted a systematic review of literature published between 2011 and 2015 – including randomized clinical trials, cohort studies, and cross-sectional study designs – found on 12 of the most prominent medical research databases. Studies selected for inclusion in the meta-analysis were those involving children between 6 and 19 years of age, and focussing on portable electronics only (as opposed to stationary devices such as television or desktop computers).

In all, 20 studies were identified as meeting the criteria for analysis. The studies covered 125,198 children across North America, Europe, Asia and Australasia, with a mean age of 14.5 years.

Review of the studies indicated that use of portable electronics at bedtime was significantly and consistently (i.e., across multiple studies) associated with inadequate amounts of sleep, poor sleep quality, and excessive daytime sleepiness.  Moreover, even the presence of media devices in the bedroom, without use, was also associated with an increased tendency for poor sleep hygiene.

Researchers suggest that this meta-analysis provides support for theories that there is an interaction between portable electronic use and psychophysiological arousal, affecting sleep outcomes. They recommend involving teachers, health care professionals, and parents in efforts to minimize device use at bedtime, with a view to improving sleep quantity and quality for children and adolescents.


Written By: Linda Jensen

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