Screen concerns grow as help impacts identified

The increasing time adults and children are spending in front of a screen each day is having a tangible impact on health, a new study warns.

Since the smartphone’s emergence in 2007, digital screen time has ballooned in use over the years for children and adults. How 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,” assesses 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) Behavioural strategies and interventions may attenuate the negative effects of screen use on sleep health.

”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,” says 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 has provided a range of recommendations for best practices to reduce the impact of screen use on sleep.

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 modelling 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,” adds NSF vice president of Research and Scientific Affairs, Joseph Dzierzewski.

It added: “Insufficient sleep duration is both widespread and associated with a higher risk of adverse health outcomes, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and depression,” it added.