Youngsters’ sleep quality after screen use study’s focus

Bedtime Electronic Devices (BED) study co-leaders Brad Brosnan and Shay-Ruby Wickhamdisplay infrared cameras that record children’s bedtime screen use. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Bedtime Electronic Devices (BED) study co-leaders Brad Brosnan and Shay-Ruby Wickhamdisplay infrared cameras that record children’s bedtime screen use. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Does streaming before dreaming result in youngsters having a worse sleep?

University of Otago researchers will try to answer that question when they monitor young people’s screen use at bedtime to see if it affects sleep quality.

‘‘Fifty percent to 90% of teens aren’t getting enough sleep — we think screens are a big factor in that,’’ study co-leader Brad Brosnan, of the Otago Department of Medicine, said on Tuesday.

“ I was shocked when I read a national survey that showed more than 80% of teens take their phone to bed,” he said.

Many youngsters were now receiving a smartphone at age 11.

More research was needed into this unprecedented access to screens to help develop better guidelines to protect children’s health, Mr Brosnan said.

“Between 50% and 90% of children are thought to be sleep-deprived.’’

This affected their ability to thriveat school, to be resilient to poor mental health and cope with daily stressors in life, he said.

The Bedtime Electronic Devices (BED) study will use cameras to record the night-time screen habits of a group of 11 to 14-year-olds.

The study aims to capture their sleep variability across the week. The young people will also befitted with activity and heart rate monitors to record sleep length, and will complete questionnaires, one on their sleep quality and a second on daily mood.

They will also be asked what they ate and drank across three days, as poor sleep can change eating habits.

Mr Brosnan, a PhD researcher, said anecdotal evidence suggested young people were using electronic devices in bed, but previous studies, relying on questionnaires, had not monitored this.

The researchers are recruiting Dunedin participants aged 11–14 and more information is available on the study’s website, bedstudy.co.nz.

Participants in the study, which has gained ethics approval, will wear a camera to capture screen use for three hours before going to bed, and an infrared camera will be set up in their bedroom.

The stationary infrared camera would capture screen use in bed, including after ‘‘lights out’’.

Study co-leader Shay-Ruby Wickham leads the mental health aspect of the project, examining the effects of sleep quality.

The study would provide provide ‘‘objectively measured and much-needed answers’’ about any links between screen use and sleep in children, she said.

The study is funded by University of Otago research grants and the Otago Medical Research Foundation.

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