Texting after Dark

November 10th, 2010 by Michael Grimes

New research suggests that teens are texting and emailing themselves tired.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

When it comes to teens, parents are justifiably concerned over the inherent dangers of texting while driving. But could there be damaging consequences from texting within their own bedrooms, too? A new study says yes.

According to Dr. Peter G. Polos of the JFK Medical Center, texting and emailing among teenagers after bedtime may have adverse effects on both their sleep habits and overall functioning throughout the day. In recapping his study, Polos told WebMD, ''It reaffirms my suspicion that the availability of these media to children can or will have a significant impact on their quality and quantity of sleep.”

It’s a logical assertion, but one that comes with several caveats. For starters, Polos’s research is preliminary and has yet to be reviewed by his peers. Also, the test group itself was quite small – only 40 students, all of whom volunteered with preexisting sleep conditions. In the WebMD article, Polos readily pointed out the group’s bias, but he still maintains the results are nonetheless indicative of a broader problem.

Whatever the case, the data collected from this pilot study is compelling. On average, Polos’s 40 students sent 33.5 texts or emails anywhere from 10 minutes to four hours after bedtime each school night. And it’s not as though texting and emailing are passive activities, either. Polos argued that such forms of communication are more stimulatory than simply watching television, and that with every text sent, that teenager then stays up anticipating whether his/her friend will answer. All in all, it doesn’t seem to add up to a good night’s sleep.

A 2009 study by the Leuven Study on Media and Adolescent Health seems to support Polos’s conclusions, with results indicating that late-night texting affected the sleep cycles of nearly half of Belgium’s 16-year-olds. Consider also a 2009 Nielsen study that found a 566 percent increase in teen texting rates over the previous two years, and it’s not terribly surprising. What’s very clear is that the days of the single-landline household are long gone; with entire social networks at their fingertips, teenagers can keep up to date with each other until the sun comes up. So, what are parents’ best courses of action? Should you confiscate electronics at curfew or apply reason to your teens and rely on the honor system? Either way, this could become a tiresome problem for all involved.