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Texting at night affects teens’ sleep and school grades

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Research has found that students who turned off their devices or who messaged for less than 30 minutes after lights out performed significantly better in school than those who messaged for more than 30 minutes after lights out.

The study, published in the Journal of Child Neurology, is the first of its kind to link night time instant messaging habits of American teenagers to sleep health and school performance. “We need to be aware that teenagers are using electronic devices excessively and have a unique physiology,” says study author Xue Ming, professor of neuroscience and neurology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “They tend to go to sleep late and get up late. When we go against that natural rhythm, students become less efficient.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that media use among children of all ages is increasing exponentially; studies have found that children ages 8 to 18 use electronic devices approximately seven-and-a-half hours daily. “During the last few years I have noticed an increased use of smartphones by my patients with sleep problems,” Ming says. Students who texted longer in the dark also slept fewer hours and were sleepier during the day than those who stopped messaging when they went to bed. Texting before lights out did not affect academic performance, the study found.

The effects of “blue light” emitted from smartphones and tablets are intensified when viewed in a dark room, Ming says. This short wavelength light can have a strong impact on daytime sleepiness symptoms since it can delay melatonin release, making it more difficult to fall asleep – even when seen through closed eyelids.

She suggests that educators recognize the sleep needs of teenagers and incorporate sleep education in their curriculum. “Sleep is not a luxury; it’s a biological necessity. Adolescents are not receiving the optimal amount of sleep; they should be getting 8-and-a-half hours a night,” says Ming.