Sleep problems can cause a whole slew of health conditions, so it's important to fix a decline in sleep time and quality, especially in teenagers.
New research says that there's an easy way to improve adolescents' sleep quality in just a single week: simply limit exposure to screens or blue light-emitting devices.
In the new collaborative research to be presented at the European Society of Endocrinology annual meeting ECE 2019, the team found that teenagers who had more than four hours of screen time every day had sleep onset and wake up times later by an average of 30 minutes compared to those who only had less than an hour of screen time every day.
Sleep symptoms such as fatigue, lack of concentration, and bad mood are also more common in the group with more screen time.
The researchers conducted a randomized trial on 25 frequent screen users, which involved blocking blue light with glasses and no screen time during the evening. In both instances of blocking the blue light and screen abstinence, the participants' sleep onset and wake up times occurred 20 minutes earlier after just one week. There was also a reduction in reported symptoms of sleep loss.
According to Dr. Dirk Jan Stenvers from the department of Endocrinology and Metabolism of the Amsterdam UMC, teenagers are spending more and more time using devices with screens — and this same age group are also frequently experiencing sleep problems.
"Here we show very simply that these sleep complaints can be easily reversed by minimising evening screen use or exposure to blue light," Stenvers explained. "Based on our data, it is likely that adolescent sleep complaints and delayed sleep onset are at least partly mediated by blue light from screens."
However, Kevin McConway, an emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, cautioned people about the new findings, pointing out that it's difficult to evaluate a study with just an abstract and a press release. Additionally, the experiment has not yet gone through a peer review.
"The differences in sleep patterns between frequent and infrequent screen users might be caused by the differences in screen use, or they might have nothing to do with that," McConway told The Guardian, adding that there may have been other explanations for the improvements in sleep in the study.
Sleep Problems In Teenagers
Sleep is a crucial part of an adolescent's development and lack of it may result in a number of health conditions. Immediate symptoms may be as simple as fatigue and poor concentration, but Stenvers pointed out that loss of sleep is also linked to a greater risk of more serious conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
By cutting back on the usage of blue light-emitting devices, it's possible that adolescents could avoid these more severe health problems down the line.
"If we can introduce simple measures now to tackle this issue, we can avoid greater health problems in years to come," he concluded.