The temptation to remain connected to family and friends — even the office — in this digital age is powerful. For many, the lure continues even when we turn in and the lights go out.
But smartphones in the bedroom is leading to a rise in insomnia, according to a recent article in The New York Times. Worse yet, teens tend to suffer the most.
“[Teens and pre-teens] have a sense that they have to respond to something, or they have to be vigilant in case there’s a problem that comes up,” said Dr. Gregory Omlor, director of pulmonary medicine and the Sleep Center at Akron Children’s Hospital. “Teenagers and younger kids … don’t have the same experience or coping skills that an older adult would have in dealing with those things.”
It’s not just the pleasure, or anxiety in some cases, of interacting with other people, but also the color of the screen that can contribute to sleeping problems, he warned.
The light emitted from a cell phone has more of a bluish hue than incandescent or fluorescent lights. The receptors in the back of our eyes that affect our alertness and circadian rhythm respond to blue light more so than any other color.
“If they’re exposing their eyes to that, either just before bedtime or at bedtime, it is going to make it harder to fall asleep,” said Dr. Omlor.
Insomnia can affect a person’s health, behavior and mood in many ways. Teens that don’t get enough sleep are more irritable and don’t function well academically.
In addition, they are more likely to have depression and anxiety. What’s more, underlying medical conditions, such as ADHD, can be compounded. Even a child’s immune system can be negatively affected.
Dr. Omlor has seen the use of gadgets and insomnia as a common issue in his office. During visits, he makes sure to ask patients whether a TV, computer and/or smartphone is present in their bedrooms at night.
“Of those, the one that is most likely to be present is the cell phone,” he said. “They say, ‘Well, I just use it as an alarm clock.’ If your cell phone is on, you’re going to get notifications … and your tendency is to check it.”
His solution? Buy an inexpensive, traditional alarm clock, so kids don’t have to rely on a cell phone to wake them up.