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After-Hours Texting and Media Use May Cause More Than Sleep Problems in Kids, Study Finds
If your kids wake up bleary-eyed every day and you're concerned they may have a sleep problem, you may want to take a look at exactly what they're doing after the lights go out.
Children who sneak time on their cell phones, computers and other electronic devices after bedtime are more likely to have sleep disorders that may be linked to other difficulties, such as learning problems, anxiety, ADHD and depression, according to a study conducted at the Sleep Disorders Center at JFK Medical Center in Edison, N.J.
The study revealed that adolescents send an average of 34 texts per night after bedtime -- about 1,000 texts per month -- in the time spanning 10 minutes to four hours after going to bed. Further, the average participant is awakened once a night by a text, lead researcher Dr. Peter Polos tells ParentDish.
The findings were based on a survey of 40 boys and girls, ages 8-16, who came to the Center with sleeping complaints. A questionnaire administered to the children and their parents was designed to determine factors including the kind of media they use, when and how often they use it and what kinds of limits parents may be setting, Polos says.
Gender differences in media consumption emerged, with boys tending to surf the Web and play video games, while girls favored texting and talking on the cell phone, Polos says. In addition, some parents reported that they do set limits for their kids -- some take away the cell phone at bedtime, others unplug the computer or disconnect the router so there's no wireless access.
The survey also looked at the presence of other, existing diagnoses that could affect children's sleep or daytime performance.
"The vast majority of these children had some other diagnosis -- whether it was insomnia, ADHD, learning disability, behavioral problem or other," Polos tells ParentDish. "We're not at all saying that this is cause and effect, but it certainly doesn't help a child if their sleep is being shortened or interrupted."
Polos says children's sleep time has already been shortened as a function of society, with extracurricular activities, sports, homework and early school buses all making our kids sleep deprived. In other words, they're not getting enough sleep even before late-night media use is added in to the equation.
For this reason, Polos advises parents to establish good sleep habits in children as early as possible, implementing a proper bedtime and sleep environment and minimal sleep distractions.
"If they start out as infants and young children with good habits," Polos tells ParentDish, "you'll have a good base when these distractions enter the picture later on."
Polos says parents should engage children in conversations about the importance of sleep early on, but also stresses that it's important to set a good example for your children, which means not "sitting up late in bed checking e-mail on your BlackBerry."
Those habits can be deleterious to your sleep as adult, he says, but you also can't be effective as a role model if you convey a "do as I do, not as I say" attitude to your kids.
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.