If You're Letting Your Teen Take His Phone To Bed, You Might Want To Reconsider

by Elizabeth Licata

A new study indicates that texting after lights out can have a negative effect on teenagers’ academic performance.

Media use among kids and teenagers is increasing significantly, which is to be expected. You can’t fill the world with pocket-sized supercomputers and expect people not to use them. But a new study indicates that it might be a good idea to put the phones away for a little while before bed, because texting in bed can mess with kids’ sleep patterns and lead to decreased performance during the day, including worse grades.

When I was a kid, I thought it was neat that I had a solar-powered calculator that fit in my pocket. Now kids have access to basically all of human knowledge, and all their friends and family, and also cat videos, so it’s little wonder that the American Academy of Pediatrics says that kids between the ages of 8 and 18 are using electronic devices for about seven and a half hours every day, according to Science Daily.

“During the last few years I have noticed an increased use of smartphones by my patients with sleep problems,” said study author Xue Ming, a professor of neuroscience and neurology at Rutgers. “I wanted to isolate how messaging alone – especially after the lights are out – contributes to sleep-related problems and academic performance.”

Ming’s study included a survey of teenagers at three New Jersey high schools. After analyzing the data, Ming says that students who stop using their phones after lights out–or who use their phones for less than 30 minutes after the lights go out–had better grades than their peers who text for more than 30 minutes after the lights are off.

The students who texted less than 30 minutes after lights out also reportedly slept better and longer, and had more energy during the day than their peers who texted into the night and thus were left yawning in class the next day.

That all makes a lot of sense. Texting at night occurs when a person is supposed to be sleeping, and with our current technology a person cannot text and sleep at the same time, so they’re sacrificing sleep for those text messages. Of course they’re more tired the next day.

The amount a student texted before lights out appears to have had no impact on a student’s grades. It’s just the after-dark texting that matters. Early evening messaging can even be beneficial for kids, as it allows them to keep in touch with their classmates and plan together for school projects and such, but she says they should be kept out of the bedroom, because the way text messaging interrupts sleep can make it difficult for a teenager to stay awake and perform at optimum capacity during the waking hours.

“If a person keeps getting text messages with alerts and light emission, that also can disrupt his circadian rhythm,” Ming explains. “Rapid Eye Movement sleep is the period during sleep most important to learning, memory consolidation and social adjustment in adolescents. When falling asleep is delayed but rising time is not, REM sleep will be cut short, which can affect learning and memory.”

Smart phones, text messaging and social media are important developments that will help the next generation do great things with their lives. But the right amount of sleep is still essential for learning, memory, and physical and mental health, so it’s probably a good idea for kids to put their phones away at least long enough to get a night of uninterrupted sleep.