Can't Sleep? Maybe It's Your Late-Night Technology Use


Put away your iPad, turn off your BlackBerry and don't even look in the direction of your PlayStation before you go to bed. That's what researchers believe could help Americans sleep better following results from the 2011 Sleep in America poll, which finds that the use of communications technology in the hour before bedtime is pervasive and perhaps unhealthy.

Almost everyone surveyed in the poll, 95%, uses some type of electronics like a TV, computer, video game or cell phone at least a few nights a week within the hour before going to bed.

"Over the last 50 years, we've seen how television viewing has grown to be a near constant before bed, and now we are seeing new information technologies such as laptops, cell phones, video games and music devices rapidly gaining the same status," Dr. Lauren Hale of Stony Brook University Medical Center says in a statement.

TV Viewing Still Tops

These devices may be "abused to the point that they contribute to getting less sleep at night, leaving millions of Americans functioning poorly the next day," says Dr. Russell Rosenberg, vice chairman of the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), which released the poll on Monday just in time for National Sleep Awareness Week.

TV remains the most common activity before bed, with about two-thirds of baby boomers (46- to 64-year-olds) and generation X'ers (30- to 45-year-olds) reporting watching TV almost every night before bedtime, as did about half of the generation Y'ers (19- to 29-year-olds) and generation Z'ers (13 to 18-year-olds).

The second most common activity is computer or laptop use, with roughly six in 10 (61%) saying they use their laptops or computers at least a few nights a week within the hour before bed.

But Dr. Charles Czeisler of Harvard Medical School warns that "[a]rtificial light exposure between dusk and the time we go to bed at night suppresses release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, enhances alertness and shifts circadian rhythms to a later hour -- making it more difficult to fall asleep."

The More Interactive, the Worse?

The poll indeed finds that many Americans (43%) between the ages of 13 and 64 say they rarely or never get a good night's sleep on weeknights. More than half (60%) say they experience a sleep problem every night or almost every night.

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Generation Z'ers and generation Y'ers report more sleepiness than generation X'ers and baby boomers. Generation Z'ers report sleeping an average of 7 hours and 26 minutes on weeknights, much less than the 9 hours and 15 minute recommended by experts.

This could be partly due to technology use, the researchers say, especially when differentiating between passive activities such as TV and music and interactive activities like Internet, videogames and texting. "The hypothesis is that the latter devices are more alerting and disrupt the sleep-onset process," says Dr. Michael Gradisar of Flinders University in Australia.

Sure enough, generation Z'ers and generation Y'ers are about twice as likely as generation X'ers and baby boomers to say they play a video game within the hour before bedtime at least a few times a week. Similarly, cell-phone use, specifically texting and talking on the phone, shows an even greater age gap.

"Serious Consequences"

Cell phones were also a sleep disturbance with about in one in 10 Gen Z'ers (9%) saying they're awakened after they go to bed every night or almost every night by a phone call, text message or email.

"The higher use of these potentially more sleep-disruptive technologies among younger generations may have serious consequences for physical health, cognitive development and other measures of well being," says Hale. Gradisar adds: "If you feel that these activities are alerting or causing you anxiety, try doing something more 'passive' to help you wind down before bed."