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Expert Panel Says Screen Use Affects Sleep Health of Children, Adolescents

A teenager playing video games at home on the bed

Lauren Hale chairs National Sleep Foundation’s international panel that published a consensus statement

Since the smartphone’s emergence in 2007, digital screen time has ballooned in use over the years for children and adults. How the use of smartphones and other digital screen devices affects sleep continues to be debated. In a review of 574 peer-reviewed published studies on the issue, an international panel of sleep experts selected by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) has drawn up a consensus statement about digital screen use and sleep.

The consensus statement, titled “The Impact of Screen Use on Sleep Health Across the Lifespan: A National Sleep Foundation Consensus Statement,” is published in the NSF journal Sleep Health. They assessed studies on screen time and its effects on sleep, including research on children, adolescents and/or adults.

After an extensive review of this large collection of studies over the course of a year, the panel reached consensus on a number of key points.

They agreed that: 1) In general, screen use impairs sleep health among children and adolescents; 2) the content of screen use before sleep impairs sleep health of children and adolescents, and 3) behavioral strategies and interventions may attenuate the negative effects of screen use on sleep health.

An international panel of sleep experts, including researchers at Stony Brook University, formally agree in a consensus statement that reducing pre-bedtime digital media, especially for children and adolescents, will improve sleep health. Credit: Getty Images

”Upon review of the current literature, our panel achieved consensus on the importance of reducing pre-bedtime digital media to improve sleep health, especially for children and adolescents,” said Lauren Hale, chair of the Consensus Panel and professor in the Program of Public Health at Stony Brook University and in the Department of Family, Population, and Preventive Medicine at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook. “We also identified the gaps in the literature and the need for future research.”

The NSF provides recommendations for best practices to reduce the impact of screen use on sleep.

In summary, they suggest:

  • Avoiding stimulating or upsetting material near bedtime
  • Implementing early, regular and relaxing bedtime routines without screens
  • Setting time limits around screen use, especially in the evening and at night
  • Parents talking with children about how using tech and screens can impact sleep
  • Parents modeling appropriate nighttime screen use for children

“The expert panel examined available scientific evidence, paying close attention to studies that examined whether, how, and for whom screen use might negatively impact sleep health. We found that stimulating content of screen use, particularly at night, has a negative effect on sleep health in young people,” added NSF Vice President of Research and Scientific Affairs Joseph Dzierzewski.

Hale and three other co-authors on the consensus statement were from Stony Brook University, including Gina Marie Mathew, Isaac Rodriguez, and librarian Jessica A. Koos, who helped identify the published peer-reviewed original research and literature reviews using databases, including the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed, Elsevier’s EMBASE, and Clarivate’s Web of Science.

Insufficient sleep duration is both widespread and associated with a higher risk of adverse health outcomes, including obesity, cardiovascular disease and depression. Having inconsistent sleep schedules is also associated with adverse health outcomes. For more information about sleep health, see this NSF webpage on Sleep Health Topics.

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