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Text messaging is spoiling teenagers' sleep

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 11 September 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:582
  1. Dobson Roger
  1. Abergavenny

    The quality of sleep of almost half of 16 year olds may be affected by text messaging on mobile phones, a study from Belgium says.

    The sleep of one in four 13 year olds could be affected too, says the researchers, who looked at the effects of text messaging on sleep interruption in teenagers (Journal of Sleep Research (2003:12:263).

    In the research, about 2500 first and fourth year children (aged 13 years and 16 years respectively) in the Leuven study on media and adolescent health (SOMAH) based in Flanders, Belgium, were asked how often they were awoken at night by incoming text messages on their mobile phone.

    In the first year students, 13.4% reported being woken up one to three times a month, 5.8% were woken up once a week, 5.3% were woken up several times a week and 2.2% were woken up every night. In the fourth year group, 20.8% were woken up between one and three times a month, 10.8% were woken up at least once a week, 8.9% were woken up several times a week, and 2.9% were woken up every night. The teenagers were also asked to indicate how tired they felt at various times.

    “These preliminary findings suggest that mobile telephones may be having a major impact on the quality of sleep of a growing number of adolescents. It affected a quarter of the youngest to almost half of the eldest children in the sample,” says Jan Van den Bulck of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, who reports the findings in a letter to the journal.

    The letter continued: “The threat to healthy sleep patterns is potentially more important than the threat posed by entertainment media. The latter mainly appear to influence time to bed, while mobile phones actually seem to lead to interrupted sleep.”

    Although studies have looked at the sleep disturbance effects on children caused by televisions and computers in the bedroom, little work has been done on the impact of mobile phones, especially when used for text messaging. Evidence is also growing that the number of children with mobile phones is increasing and that some take them to bed so that they do not miss any incoming text messages.

    “There is a small, but growing body of research looking at the impact of the mass media on young people's sleep patterns. Lack of sleep and nightmares have been linked to television viewing. Sleep disturbances have been linked to the presence of a TV set in the child's bedroom and to computer game play. Media for interpersonal communication, however, appear not to have received similar attention,” wrote Dr Van den Bulck.

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