By: Katiann Marshall, Zach Cumberland, Kyleigh Razmic
When Harshal Patel, a senior engineering major at West Virginia University, goes to sleep, he keeps his cell phone on next to his bed. He likes to use the phone as an alarm but when he gets a text or call in the middle of the night, it invariably wakes him up.
“I only answer if it’s important,” Patel says. But he acknowledges that the noise disrupts his sleep.
Patel is far from alone. According to one study, 50 percent of people who sleep with their phones on wake up in the middle of the night and check their phones. However, experts say that such practices may cause sleep deprivation. And now new research shows that excessive reliance on electronic gadgets (like cell phones and laptops) can actually hurt your academic performance. A recent study by researchers at the The Miriam Hospital’s Center for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine in Providence, RI, shows that the use of such devices to text, watch online videos and post statuses on Facebook is associated with lower grade point averages.
“It can really affect their performance academically and has been linked to higher stress,” said Meghan Phillips, WELL WVU’s Health Promotion Specialist.
The Miriam Hospital study surveyed 483 women in their first year of college and found they were spending almost 12 hours a day texting, networking on social media sites like Facebook, listening to music online and watching some type of videos. The women who were doing this more than 12 hours were more likely to have lower grade point averages. Researchers found that social networking, cell phones, television viewing and magazine reading were associated with bad academic performance. This study was published on March 26, 2013 by the journal Emerging Adulthood.
The study did find some positive uses of technology, however. Reading the news online or listening to music was actually linked to better academic performance.
Research also shows that the use of technology, mainly cell phones and computer use may cause sleep deprivation. Recently, the West Virginia University Sleep Center conducted a study showing 95 percent of us surf the web, text or watch television right before going to bed.And one in four smart phone users do not turn off their cell phones before going to sleep.
Young people who depend on technology to fall asleep are also at risk of sleep deprivation. Students who keep their TV, for example, are less likely to fall into a deep sleep involving Rapid Eye Movement (REM), researchers say. Studies show that REM sleep is the time when the brain processes memories and learning from the previous day and renews itself. When people are deprived of REM sleep, they don’t function as well the next day.
“It’s actually been proven that it takes longer to fall into a deep REM sleep while having the TV on and sometimes it may not even happen,” says Dr. John Young, a physician at West Virginia University Sleep Center.
Young also says that keeping your cell phone and looking at its lighted screen in the middle of the night can cause sleep deprivation.
“Light is something that [exposes] our brain to certain chemicals or changes that are counterproductive to sleep; you could be in a darkened room but still have a lighted screen in front of you that’s triggering your brain to stay awake,” said Young.
Experts say there is only one solution; turn off all technology; cell phones, computers, and TVs at least thirty minutes before trying to fall asleep. During the day, professors can also try to engage students better through the use of electronic gadgets and social media. Instead of trying to completely prevent the use of technology by students, the Miriam Hospital researchers said that asking students to post assignments on Twitter or Facebook might help to integrate the class and connect students with other classmates.
“We’re going to have to arrive at some sort of solution to this,” says Daniel Brewster, professor of sociology at WVU. “It’s definitely affecting our sleep patterns and that affects our mood and our productivity.”