Screen Time Driver of Sleep Loss Among Young People

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School is back and one way parents can set their kids up for success is ensuring screen time is not getting in the way of sleep.

Dr. Maida Chen, professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said there is a strong connection between sleep and mental health, and they affect each other in a circular way, which Chen pointed out screens can exacerbate.

“The screens sort of work in both directions so that if you have underlying mental health issues, screens will worsen sleep,” Chen explained. “If you have sleep issues, it’ll worsen sleep issues to the point of, perhaps, further triggering the development of mental health issues.”

Chen noted it’s not just the screens themselves affecting sleep. The content, especially on social media, can be activating. It can trigger anxiety, for instance, which makes it hard to sleep. Mental health is a major issue for youth. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 42% of high school students felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021.

Chen believes social media heightened social isolation during the pandemic, leading to greater mental health and sleep challenges for young people. But she also emphasized adults have to model the behavior they want to see in their children.

“It makes no sense for us to be chastising our teens for being on their phones and on social media when they turn around and that is all they see the adults in their world doing,” Chen contended.

To help with the issue, Chen added families do not have to change their habits all at once. She suggested having screen-free time about 30 minutes before bed, when families can instead spend time together. If media is involved, Chen advised families should watch something together.

Featured photo: Screen time before bed can be especially detrimental for teenagers and their developing brains. (Brian/Adobe Stock)

Eric Tegethoff

Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.

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