— Every night, Christy Ross, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Delaware, goes to sleep cradling a cell phone.
“I get into bed and reach for my phone to text someone, listen to music, or play a game before I fall asleep rather than just shutting my eyes. Sometimes I even feel a slight pressure to stay awake and continue a conversation (especially if it is with a cute boy)," she says. "A text message going off in the middle of the night will wake me up and I will usually respond.”
Ross is not alone in her habits, reveals a study released Monday. Teens send an average of 34 texts a night (adding up to 3,400 a month) after going to bed — in some cases up to four hours after hitting the sack, found researchers from JFK Medical Center, in Edison, N.J.
The evidence has been mounting that teens mightily prefer texting to actual contact with family members, with studies from Nielsen and Kaiser contributing data that show teens consider the loss of a cell phone more dire than the loss of an internal organ.
But the new research is especially concerning, experts say, because it finds that half of the kids kept awake by electronic media suffered from a whole host of mood and cognitive problems, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, depression, and learning difficulties.
“Media opportunities like texting and games are worse than TV because they are interactive,” says Dr. Peter Polos, lead researcher and a specialist in sleep medicine at the Sleep Disorder Center at JFK Medical Center. “Removing these distractions would maximize children’s sleep time. Bedtime is bedtime and lights out.”
Girls more likely to text, boys inclined toward games
Polos said the study findings, compiled from questionnaires completed by 40 students ages 8 to 22 years old, also revealed some gender differences: Boys were more likely to surf the Internet and play online games after going to bed, whereas girls were more inclined to text message and use cell phones.
Marie Letizia Ivers, a mother of three teens in Montebello, N.Y., said when she took her niece, now an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers, to visit colleges last year, the teen slept with her phone right beside her head.
“All through the night she would seem to be asleep but suddenly lift up on an elbow and type into her phone,” said Ivers. “Then she dropped back onto the pillow and seemed to be fast asleep.”
Amanda Burr, an 18-year-old freshman at Concordia College in Mount Vernon, N.Y., says she sometimes falls asleep texting.
“I'm usually texting three or four people per night right before I go to sleep," she says, but says she doesn't think if impacts how much sleep she gets "unless someone sends me a message after I'm already asleep because it wakes me up.”
Neither teen said they felt tired the next day, but, as the study showed, a lack of shut eye can lead to longer-term issues. So what should parents do to extricate their children from their media?
“Get a locked strongbox, and put all phones and blackberries there until morning,” says Mary A. Carskadon, director of chronobiology/sleep research at the E.P. Bradley Hospital and professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown Medical School, who has researched insufficient sleep in adolescents. “It’s clear if you have a phone in bed with you and it’s turned on it’s going to interfere with your performance in school, and teens feel like they always need to be connected to their friends. Young people need limits set, because their brains are still developing, and they need their parents to take action.”