The effect of Digital Media Use on Sleep


Most studies have investigated the effect of technology use before and after lights out time, and in children’s bedrooms

The question of whether digital media use during the day and during school time might affect sleep indices has not yet been sufficiently studied


A literature review including 67 articles (published between 1999 – 2014), evaluated the association between digital media use and sleep problems in children and adolescents. In the survey, a positive association was demonstrated in 90% of the studies. The main effect found was an association between digital media use at lights out time and sleep postponement and shortening of sleep duration (differences in the findings were reported according to age and gender of the participants, screen type, and weekdays versus weekend).



It should be noted that these studies have a number of limitations; most of the studies were cross sectional and the minority were interventional. In cross sectional studies, the causal direction is unclear, does the use of digital media interfere with sleep or does lack of sleep lead to increased digital media use? In addition, the studies relied on subjective reporting, both of digital media exposure and of sleep indices, and not on objective assessment of exposure data and sleep disturbances. Many studies did not provide information on the type of devices, combined use and characteristics of content watched.


Presence of Digital Devices in Children’s Bedrooms and their Effect on Sleep Indices

Studies have shown an association between the number of digital devices in children’s rooms and their types and sleep disturbances amongst children and adolescents.


In a survey conducted by the American Sleep Foundation in 2005, a significant difference was found between adolescents with few (up to 3) digital devices in their bedrooms and those with more than 3 digital devices in their bedrooms. A higher percentage of adolescents with few digital devices in their bedrooms (25%) slept 9 hours per night, compared to those with many devices in their bedrooms (13%). In another study it was found that shortening of overall sleep time can reach up to 45 minutes if there were a variety of screens in the child’s bedroom.



Use of Digital Devices and its Effect on Sleep

The effect of digital media use around lights out time is characterized by sleep postponement and shortening of sleep duration. It was found that use of digital devices after 9:00 PM has a negative effect on sleep quality (with differences at the various ages). Also, many screen hours in the evening (at least an hour) make it 3.4 times more likely that the child will go to sleep late. In addition to sleep onset postponement due to use of various technologies, exposure to arousing content (for instance movies, active computer games) may also have an effect.


Read more about the effects of digital media on sleep, by type of device (TV, computer, internet use and cell phone)




Daily use and its effect on sleep


Only a few studies directly investigated the association between digital media usage during day time hours and sleep disorders, and findings from these studies are not uniform. These studies examined the effect of digital media usage on sleep according to Total Screen Time (TST) or according to the time of day when usage occurred. In studies that assessed daily total screen time it was not possible to distinguish between the effect of usage close to bedtime and usage throughout the day or during the morning.



Examples of studies in this field:

  • In a study conducted amongst middle school students in 2009 it was found that total screen time was not related to sleep problems. On the other hand, over one hour of screen time before bed increased the risk of sleep problems 13 fold.
  • A cross sectional study conducted amongst around 10,000 adolescents (aged 16-19) in Norway examined the association between digital media usage before going to sleep or during leisure time and sleep disturbances. The study found that the use of digital devices all day or in the hours before going to sleep, affects sleep indices in the same way, with increase in the risk of shortened sleep duration, prolonged sleep onset latency and increase in sleep deprivation. An association was also found between the number of hours using screens during leisure hours and a reduction in sleep duration.
  • A study published in 2011 that included 617 kindergarten aged children (aged 3-5 years) investigated the effect of usage time and digital media content on children’s sleep. It was found that night time media usage had a greater effect on sleep than daytime usage. Nevertheless, it found that consumption of violent media contents during the day was related with nighttime sleep problems. No association was found between non-violent media consumption in the day and sleep problems. 

Because of the scarcity of studies until now, it is not possible to evaluate the effect of digital media usage during the day - in general and for pedagogical purposes in particular - on sleep.


*This review was prepared with the help and guidance of Prof Tamar Shochat of the Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Sciences, Haifa University and Mr. Amit Green of the Institute for Sleep Health, Assuta Medical Centers


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Updated: 15.7.2018