Monday, August 1, 2011

Communication Technologies and Sleep

There is a review in the journal Sleep Review of modern communication and media technologies and sleep. The National Sleep Foundation did a poll this year about these technologies and how they affect Americans' sleep. They found that 95% of Americans, aged 13 - 64, use some type of electronic device (TV, cell phone, computer, or video game) during the hour before bed. The younger people tended to use more interactive communication media like social networking and video games, whereas the older people tended to watch more television in the hour before bed.

More than half of those who use the cell phone in the hour prior to bedtime leave the phone and the ringer on next to them while they sleep. About 10% said that they were awakened at least a few nights each week due to a phone call, email, or text message. Obviously, these sleep disrupting communication devices can worsen, or even cause, insomnia.

The problem with the interactive media and video games is that these devices tend to be more stimulating, and this can make it more difficult to sleep if these devices are used in the hour before bed. Also, we sit close enough to monitors on laptops and desk tops, that the light from the screen can interfere with melatonin secretion, the hormone that signals your brain that it's night and time for bed. That pre-sleep hour should be relaxing, with only dim light and minimal stimulation.

I see this as a large public health issue, especially with generation Z kids (age 13-18 year olds), who are intertwined with these interactive communication devices. Public education might be able to address this problem, as the right amount of sleep can be so important to mental health, physical health, and overall development.

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