Electronic Devices Wreak Havoc on Sleeping Patterns, Research Shows

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Alberta is raising concerns about children’s access to electronic devices.

While many kids enjoy watching television or playing video games before going to bed, researchers suggest that using these devices in the bedroom can wreak havoc on a child’s sleep schedule.

Children who use electronic devices in their bedrooms are also more prone to obesity. According to the study, kids with access to one device are 1.47 times likely to be overweight, while kids with three devices are 2.57 times more likely.

The study was part of a joint project by the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta and Alberta Health. Dubbed Raising Healthy Eating and Active Living Kids Alberta (REAL Kids Alberta), the initiative was established in 2008 to evaluate the health of Canadian children. 

This isn’t the first time that researchers have linked technology to poor health in children. Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly discouraged screen time for children ages two and under. Back in 2010, a University of Iowa study reported that children who used technology excessively actually had shorter attention spans.

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Despite this, recent data suggests that screen time for Canadian children is actually on the rise. REAL Kids Alberta reports that half of the students they surveyed had a common electronic device, such as a television, in their bedrooms. Over half of the study’s participants also reported using devices after their bed time.

So what can parents do to help? Officially, both the Canadian Paediatric Society and the AAP recommend limiting screen time to two hours a day. According to the AAP, technology should be managed responsibly and enjoyed in moderation.

“The AAP realizes that media exposure is a reality for many families in today’s society,” they said in a 2011 report. “If parents choose to engage their young children with electronic media, they should have concrete strategies to manage it.”

If there’s good news to come out of the recent Alberta study, it’s that Grade 5 students need only one more hour of sleep to reduce health risks such as obesity. The link between increased screen time and poor sleep is just as important for Canadian adults, who now spend an average of 2.8 hours a day on their smartphones. While it’s not easy to get away from the screen, unplugging can be a great way to unwind and fit in some extra Z’s.

The research is based on a survey of several thousand Grade 5 students about their weight, height, and level of physical activity. Scientists also used the Harvard Youth/Adolescent Food Frequency questionnaire to evaluate the eating habits of participants.

Photo: Lulufrufru via Flickr