Texting at night 'disrupts children's sleep and memory'

Close up hand holding iphone Staring at a small bright screen can disrupt sleep more than watching television research suggests

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Parents should worry less about cyberbullying and more about sleep and memory disruption when children use technology at night, an expert warns.

Neuroscientist Dr Paul Howard-Jones will tell Bristol Festival of Education on Monday that parents should limit their children's use of technology.

Dr Howard-Jones will cite evidence that night-time texting disrupts sleep more than watching television.

He wants adults to apply their offline parenting skills to the digital world.

Dr Howard-Jones will say that "most parents would discourage their children from having a midnight chat to friends on the doorstep, but having access to a mobile phone under the duvet can also be a bad idea."

He will say there is evidence that staring at a small bright screen under the covers can disrupt the secretion of the hormone melatonin which regulates our sleep cycle, more strongly than watching television.

He will add that another study suggests that teenagers who text after lights out are four times more likely to experience daytime drowsiness and yet more studies have linked playing video games even early in the evening with loss of sleep.

Dr Howard-Jones, of Bristol University, specialises in neuroscience and education and in particular on the effects of computer games and digital technology on the brain. He is also himself the father of five school-aged children.

Last year he reviewed 168 research papers on digital technology and the brain for a report summarising the science on the subject.

Scare stories

He told BBC News he believes some of the scare stories about changes to the brain brought on by use of digital technologies are overstated.

However he says the science shows that there is a definite effect on the brain, particularly in children.

He says that some recent studies have shown that use of social networking sites by teenagers is linked to positive well-being and greater social connectedness but adds that a willingness to seek the company of strangers whether online or offline is linked to poorer social well-being.

"That makes it sensible to be asking questions about, for example, the effects of social networking sites on their offline lives."

He told BBC News that reading the articles made him focus on the difficulties of monitoring and regulating his own children's use of smart phones and video games.

"All the time I was thinking 'what does this mean for my family and what does it mean for me in practice as a parent?'

"I appreciate the difficulties of monitoring and regulating their technology use. With increasing connectivity on mobile devices it's an increasingly difficult task for parents."

Justine Roberts of Mumsnet commented: "It's important that parents keep the rules very clear about digital usage and are not put off by the fact that children and teenagers may use the technology better than us.

"Just because it's technology, parents should not shy away from applying the usual parenting rules and boundaries.

"It's important to keep a dialogue open about online activities just as you would with any other conversation or activity."

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