Electronics Before Bed: When Does It Affect
By Michael Gradisar, PhD | November 27, 2012
Dr Gradisar is a clinical psychologist at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia, where he
focuses on assessment and management of sleep disorders in children and adolescents.
With the explosion in recent years in the use of electronic media—including television, computers,
video-gaming, the Internet, mobile telephones, and music—there is growing concern about their effect
on sleep, especially the sleep of children and adolescents. A big concern for these youngsters, of course,
is that sleep affects memory performance and concentration, much-needed skills in the classroom.
In 2010, we reviewed 36 studies conducted on minors that involved sleep issues and electronics use.
Our most consistent finding was that excessive media use results in a shorter sleep time and delayed
Since we published that study, newer versions of electronics have been released and their use has
become more widespread. Here I comment about recent updates in the sleep and technology field.
What’s Changed
There has been a steady increase in correlational studies because many authors see technology use as an
important variable to insert into their sleep surveys. I was involved in such a study that was conducted
by the National Sleep Foundation. However, I am more interested in controlled laboratory studies.
We recently tested whether the light from iPads affects sleep. Although our findings are not yet
published in a peer review setting, Flinders University released information on them showing that teens
using iPads for a moderate amount of time (an hour) before bed are still likely to get a good night’s
sleep. The small study evaluated 16 adolescents (age range, 14 to 19 years) over 3 weeks at the
university’s sleep research laboratory. They watched a movie or played a game on the iPad, using the
brightest screen setting. The light from their iPads had no effect on their sleep.
We also tested the notions that the blue light content from LED-backlit screens can affect sleep and that
new interventions designed to prevent this problem actually work. We asked teenagers to use an iPad on
full brightness, which contains significant blue light emissions. We also tested the use of the iPad with
the app f.lux equipped, which reduces the blue light emissions, giving the iPad light a warmer coloring.
In our tests of full brightness versus dim iPad use and of the app f.lux, we found no real differences
between conditions.
As further context, the teens were required to hold the iPad 40 cm away from their face and had all Vol. No. November 27, 2012
white background content playing on the iPad. This was done to maximize the amount of bright screen
light reaching their eyes. In the real-world use of iPads, teens are unlikely to do this. In addition, I own
an iPad and rarely would use the full brightness setting. Therefore, our conclusion based on these data
can be that 1 hour of iPad use before teens’ usual bedtime is okay.
Violent Video Games and Teen Arousal
To test how violent video games affect teens’ arousal, we evaluated 17 adolescents by providing them
with 50 or 150 minutes of violent video game time before their usual bedtime. Because this game had
just come out in the stores, it was a novel experience for the teens, which should have added to the
excitement and arousal.
In terms of arousal (measured via heart rate), we found no differences while the teens played video
games or after they finished playing video games. Yet, they took longer to fall asleep after 150 minutes
of video gaming versus the 50-minute condition. In addition, after 150 minutes of video-gaming, the
teens got less sleep (particularly REM sleep, involved in consolidating learning and memory) and had
poorer sleep quality. Although the teens’ sleep was affected, we could not determine that it was the
result of physiological arousal.
Direct Cause and Effect?
In our 2010 study, a research priority was to prove a direct (rather than correlational) cause and effect
between the sleep changes and the use of electronics. I review a lot of manuscripts in this field, and
virtually all of them are correlational studies, which cannot determine cause and effect. As seen from the
iPad and video game studies mentioned above, I’m interested in what mechanism is causing poor sleep
as a result of technology use before bedtime.
It may seem intuitive, but our studies are pointing toward 50 to 60 minutes worth of electronics use
being okay, even if the content is violent or on a bright screen. Yet, effects start being seen toward the
120- to 150-minute mark.
It’s important to begin to understand that technology use before bedtime is prevalent and inevitable.
Efforts need to be focused on determining what levels of technology use before bed are safe.
To answer this, many more controlled laboratory studies are needed to understand the effects from
various sources of technology use. There still is a long way to go, especially when the rate at which
producers create new technologies exceeds the rate at which investigators can conduct and report on this
1. Cain N, Gradisar M. Electronic media use and sleep in school-aged children and adolescents: a
review. 2010;11:735-742. Sleep Med.
2. King DL, Gradisar M, Drummond A, et al. The impact of prolonged violent video-gaming on
adolescent sleep: an experimental study. 2012 Nov 9. [Epub ahead of print.] J Sleep Res. Vol. No. November 27, 2012

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