The Covid emergency, the lockdowns and distance learning instead of classroom lessons have “drastically increased exposure to electronic devices in minors, leading to a sharp increase in sleep disturbances”.
This is the finding of a study conducted on more than 1,000 children and teenagers and coordinated by the Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital together with the Sapienza University and Tor Vergata University in Rome. The results were published in the scientific journal ‘Sleep Medicine’.
The study found that compared to the pre-pandemic period, the increase in time spent in front of a screen involved a total of 68.7% of children and young people. Specifically – reports the research – the exposure time is more than tripled for school reasons (from just under an hour a day to three and a half hours) and involved 72% of children and teenagers, while for recreational use, use almost doubled (from an hour and three quarters to three hours) and involved 49.7% of the subjects.
Considering only the evening hours (after 6 pm) the increase in exposure time to the devices was observed in 30% of the sample (325 children). It went from just 13.7% of children and teenagers who spent more two hours in front of screens before Covid at 29.1% (more than double).A particularly significant figure – highlights the work – given that the factors most associated with the risk of the onset of sleep disturbance are precisely those relating to the time spent in front of a screen in the evening hours.
The study was carried out by administering 1,209 questionnaires to parents of children and teenagers aged between 2 and 18 between April and June 2021. Of these, 1,084 were then actually used, after discarding those partially completed. The questionnaire was divided into several parts: the registry one, the one on the state of health, the one on the use of electronic devices before and during the pandemic, the specific one to evaluate sleep disorders (‘Sleep Disturbance Scale for Children’).
The cohort was constructed including a large population range of healthy children and young people aged between 2 and 18 years and consisted of 569 males and 515 females. Of the 1,084 children and teenagers, 6.3% attended nursery schools, 23.5% kindergarten, 39.7% primary, 15.9% secondary, 12.9% schools high school and 1.7% were not yet educated.
The aim of the study was to verify the increase in the use of electronic devices during the pandemic by studying their effects on the sleep of minors. To assess the presence or absence of sleep disorders, the ‘Sleep Disturbance Scale for Children’ was used , a special questionnaire – explains the Bambino Gesù Hospital – which consists of 26 questions that allow for the assessment of sleep habits in children and adolescents.
The questions include the duration of sleep, the difficulties in falling asleep and waking up, the number of times you wake up during the night and restlessness during sleep.
The study conducted by doctors of developmental neurology and researchers of neurological and neurosurgical diseases of Bambino Gesù Hospital together with colleagues from Sapienza University and Tor Vergata University in Rome, demonstrated an increase of more than 50% in sleep disturbances compared to the pre-pandemic period. In detail, it went from 240 children and adolescents who already showed sleep disturbances before the start of the pandemic, to 367 during the pandemic: 33.9% of the entire sample, practically one in three minors.
“The lifestyle of children and teenagers has changed profoundly. Electronic devices are now part of their life, both school and social, and this persists even now that we are very far from the pandemic closures. All this only underlines the importance of sleep hygiene recommendations which must always be considered the first line of treatment to promote appropriate behaviors to promote good sleep in childhood and adolescence. Especially because sleep in this age group is crucial for improving learning, cognitive skills, scholastic and also social,” comments Romina Moavero, developmental neurologist at the Bambino Gesù children’s hospital in Rome and co-author of the study.