July 18, 2019 | 74° F

Study finds texting in bed impacts academic performance

Photo by Edwin Gano and Michelle Klejmont |

A new study found that using a mobile phone or similar electronic device would impact a student's sleeping habits and grades. 

Keeping your grades up might mean putting your cell phone down.

A new study published by Xue Ming, a professor in the Department of Neurology at the New Jersey Medical School, explores the effects of using electronic devices such as cell phones and computers before going to sleep.

“(The study found that) exposure to light in the evenings delays circadian rhythm, the biologic clock for sleep and wake cycle, (causing) one (to) sleep later,” Ming said.

The paper, published on Jan. 13 in the "Journal of Child Neurology," found that students who spent more time instant messaging after they turned off the lights reportedly slept less, were more sleepy during the day and performed worse academically.

Ambient illumination, including computer or other illuminated screens, affects a person’s circadian rhythm. Adolescents should limit their use of electronics at night, especially after all the lights are out, Ming said.

“Messaging before lights out was not associated with higher rates of daytime sleepiness or poorer academic performance,” the study says.

Danielle Cai, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences sophomore, turns off her cell phone and computer before going to sleep. 

She has maintained this habit since high school. She averages about eight hours of sleep every night, sleeping before 11 p.m. and waking up at around 7 or 8 a.m., she said.

“I know that technology radiation is bad for you, so that’s why I do this,” she said.

Cell phones emit radio-frequency energy, which produces heat that is absorbed by surrounding tissue, according to the National Cancer Institute.

While cell phone use does not directly correlate to an increased risk of cancer, cell phones have other effects. “Blue light” emitted from smartphones disrupts the body’s production of melatonin, a neurochemical that aids with sleep, according to a study published by Michigan State University in 2014.

In contrast, Dylan Oelkers, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, uses his phone every night before he goes to sleep for about 30 minutes.

He has not noticed any significant effects on his sleep schedule, Oelkers said.

A study conducted in 2011 published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that abstaining from phone use for about one hour before bed facilitates sleep.

Oelkers’s usual bedtime is at midnight, even on days that he has an early class on another campus. On those days, he wakes up at around 7 a.m., and on days that he does not have a class until noon, he goes to sleep at 2 a.m. and wakes at 10 a.m., he said.

He does not think his electronic use affects his academic performance.

Oelkers is a computer science major who spends hours on programming work before he turns the lights out. On days he does not have as much work, he will watch YouTube videos for less time than he would have spent on his academic work.

TIME Magazine called this effect of sleep deprivation a “cellphone hangover.”

“Smartphones are almost perfectly designed to disrupt sleep,” said Russel Johnson, an assistant professor of management at Michigan State University.

Even if a person is not mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and is using an electronic reader or iPad to read a novel, the effects can still be detrimental, he said. 

Brigham and Women’s Hospital found in 2014 that light-emitting electronic readers impact “overall health, alertness and the circadian clock.”

“Participants reading a (light emitting) eBook took longer to fall asleep and had reduced evening sleepiness, reduced melatonin secretion, later timing of their circadian clock and reduced next-morning alertness than when reading a printed book,” said Anne-Marie Chang, a corresponding author of the "Journal of Child Neurology."

The best bet at maintaining a healthy sleep cycle is to not use any electronics before sleeping, Cai said.

“(Shutting off electronics is) just a habit,” Cai said. “I don’t like to have technology near me when I’m going to sleep, especially because I read books before I go to sleep.”


Bushra Hasan is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. She is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @Hasanabanana for more.

Bushra Hasan

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