Teens who spend longer watching TV, playing video games and browsing the internet and social media tend to sleep less and are more prone to daytime sleepiness, but parental control of technology does little to protect their sleep according to researchers at The University of Western Australia.
Contrary to popular belief the paper, published in Sleep Medicine, found a bi-directional relationship between technology use and sleep in adolescents.
Although more technology use was associated with less sleep and more daytime sleepiness, adolescents with an affinity for the evening tended to use technology more over time, potentially to pass time in the evening until they felt ready to fall asleep.
Dr Cele Richardson from UWA’s School of Psychological Science and Centre for Sleep Science, and her colleagues at Macquarie University, carried out a study measuring teens’ sleep, technology use and parental control across three annual waves.
Dr Richardson said that puberty seemed to trigger a shift in adolescents’ body clocks, meaning they felt more alert in the evening and did not want to go to bed until later.
“The night owls in our study tended to use technology more over time,” Dr Richardson said. “This is really interesting as there is a growing appreciation that young people might actually be using technology as a sleep aid.”
Given many teens are not getting the amount of sleep that is recommended for their age, the study questioned whether parental control of technology use could help to protect adolescent sleep.
However, the researchers found that parental control of technology did not predict changes in time spent using technology nor adolescent sleepover two years.
Surprisingly, the more time teens spent using technology and the greater their preference for the evening and associated daytime sleepiness, the fewer parents perceived they had control over their teen’s technology use.
Dr Richardson said the results highlighted that parenting was a dynamic process, with child and adolescent sleep and behaviour affecting parents’ behaviour, and not only the other way around.
“It is possible that parents perceive more control over their child’s technology use when their child spends less time using technology and sleeps well, and that parental control of technology use becomes more difficult when the child uses technology more,” Dr Richardson said.
“Since parental control of technology use did not protect adolescent sleep, our results suggest the need to focus on findings creative ways in which adolescents themselves can mitigate their risk of inadequate sleep.”