Screen Time Before Bed Linked to Less Sleep, Higher BMIs in Kids

Using digital devices before bed may contribute to sleep and nutrition problems in children, according to new research.

After surveying parents about their kids’ technology and sleep habits, researchers at the Penn State College of Medicine found that using technology before bed was associated with less sleep, poorer sleep quality, more fatigue in the morning, and — in the children who watched TV or used their cell phones before bed — higher body mass indexes (BMI).

The results suggest a vicious cycle of technology use, poor sleep, and rising BMIs, according to Caitlyn Fuller, a medical student.

“We saw technology before bed being associated with less sleep and higher BMIs,” Fuller said. “We also saw this technology use being associated with more fatigue in the morning, which circling back is another risk factor for higher BMIs. So we’re seeing a loop pattern forming.”

Previous research has found associations between more technology use and less sleep, more inattention, and higher BMIs in adolescents. But even though research shows that 40 percent of children have cell phones by fifth grade, the researchers said not as much was known about the effects of technology on a younger population.

Fuller noted that because sleep is so critical to a child’s development, she was interested in learning more about the connection between screen time right before bed and how well those children slept, as well as how it affected other aspects of their health.

The researchers asked the parents of 234 children between the ages of eight and 17 about their kids’ sleep and technology habits. The parents provided information about their children’s technology habits, sleep patterns, nutrition, and activity. The researchers also asked the parents to specify whether their children were using cellphones, computers, video games, or television during their technology time.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found several adverse effects associated with using different technologies right before bed.

“We found an association between higher BMIs and an increase in technology use, and also that children who reported more technology use at bedtime were associated with less sleep at night,” Fuller said. “These children were also more likely to be tired in the morning, which is also a risk factor for higher BMIs.”

Children who reported watching TV or playing video games before bed got an average of 30 minutes less sleep than those who did not, while kids who used their phone or a computer before bed averaged an hour less of sleep than those who did not, according to the study’s findings.

There was also an association between using all four types of technology before bed and increased cellphone use at night, such as waking up to text someone, with watching TV resulting in the highest odds, the researchers discovered.

Fuller said the results support new recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) about screen time for children. The AAP recommends that parents create boundaries around technology use, such as requiring their kids to put away their devices during meal times and keeping phones out of bedrooms at night.

While more research is needed to determine whether multiple devices at bedtime results in worse sleep than just one device, the study can help pediatricians talk to parents about the use of technology, according to Dr. Marsha Novick, an associate professor of pediatrics and family and community medicine.

“Although there are many benefits to using technology, pediatricians may want to counsel parents about limiting technology for their kids, particularly at bedtime, to promote healthy childhood development, and mental health,” Novick said.

The study was published in the journal Global Pediatric Health. 

Source: Penn State