Text messaging and other electronic communication media were linked to excessive movement during sleep, insomnia, and leg pain at night in students ages 8 to 22, Dr. Peter G. Polos of JFK Medical Center in Edison, N.J., and colleagues found.
Use of these technologies after bedtime was also associated with "high rates of daytime cognitive or mood problems ... including ADHD, anxiety, depression, learning difficulties," according to the report slated for presentation here at the CHEST meeting on Wednesday.
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More confirmation of these effects is needed, but the preliminary results suggest that electronic media provide stimulation that runs counter to good sleep hygiene.
The graphics and rapid responses involved provide more interaction than passively watching television, Polos' group noted.
"Such activity should be monitored," they told conference attendees in the study abstract. "Attempts at limiting use at bedtime appear to be reasonable."
They suggested that parents set appropriate times for text messaging and other technology use and take proactive steps like moving computers out of the bedroom.
For physicians, the message is to consider electronic media use in routine evaluation of patients with trouble sleeping, they added.
That recommendation got the agreement of American College of Chest Physicians president Dr. David D. Gutterman of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
"The prevalence of insomnia and other sleep disorders is cause for great concern, given their potential consequences on a child's ability to function in school," he said in a press release. "Research shows that the problem is increasing, so it is more important than ever for physicians to ask questions about technology use when evaluating children for sleep issues."
The pilot study surveyed 40 JFK Sleep Clinic patients, average age 14.5, using a modified version of the Children's Sleep Habits Questionnaire from September 2009 to May 2010.
These young people averaged 33.5 text messages or e-mails sent per night to an average of 3.7 people for a total of 3,404 text messages per person per month.
These occurred from 10 minutes to four hours after bedtime.
Boys favored surfing and gaming online; girls were more likely to call or text message on the cell phone.
These technologies woke up surveyed adolescents and young adults once a night on average. More than 77 percent of the adolescents and young adults surveyed had persistent trouble getting to sleep.
Polos' group concluded that the adverse impact on sleep hygiene and daytime function could be significant, although larger studies into the short- and long-term consequences are needed.