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Not getting enough sleep? Turn off the technology

By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Dependence on televisions, cellphones and laptops may be costing Americans dearly -- in lack of sleep.

The national penchant for watching television every evening before going to sleep, playing video games late into the night or checking emails and text messages before turning off the lights could be interfering with the nation's sleep habits.

"Unfortunately, cell phones and computers, which make our lives more productive and enjoyable, may be abused to the point that they contribute to getting less sleep at night leaving millions of Americans functioning poorly the next day," Russell Rosenberg, the vice chairman of the Washington DC-based National Sleep Foundation (NSF), said in a statement.

Nearly 95 percent of people questioned in an NSF study said they used some type of electronics in the hour before going to bed, and about two-thirds admitted they do not get enough sleep during the week.

Charles Czeisler, of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said exposure to artificial light before going to bed can increase alertness and suppress the release of melatonin, a sleep-promoting hormone.

"Technology has invaded the bedroom," Czeisler explained in an interview. "Invasion of such alerting technologies into the bedroom may contribute to the high proportion of respondents who reported they routinely get less sleep than they need."

Baby boomers, or people aged 46-64 years old, were the biggest offenders of watching television every night before going to sleep, while more than a third of 13-18 year-olds and 28 percent of young adults 19-29 year olds played video games before bedtime.

Sixty one percent also said they used their computer or laptop at least a few nights each week.

And a propensity to stay in touch means that even people who have managed to fall asleep, are being woken up by cellphones, texts and emails during the night.

"One in 10 kids report they are being awoken by texts after they have gone to bed. People don't turn off their Blackberries," said Czeisler, adding that much of this is happening at the expense of sleep.

Generation Z'ers, 13-18 year olds, were the most sleep-deprived group, with 22 percent describing themselves as "sleepy," compared to only nine percent of baby boomers.

Sleep experts recommend that teenagers get 9 hours and 15 minutes of sleep a night but adolescents in the study were only averaging 7 hours and 26 minutes on weeknights.

"I am the most concerned about how little sleep 13-18 years are getting," said Czeisler. "Kids today are getting an hour and a half to two hours less sleep per night than they did a century ago. That means that they are losing about 50 hours of sleep per month," said Czeisler.

Americans' lack of sleep is negatively impacting their work, mood, family, driving habits, sex lives and health, according to the NSF.

All age groups are coping by consuming caffeinated drinks -- about three 12-ounce (354 ml) beverages per person -- per day, and taking naps, sometimes more than one during the day.

"Parents should get these technologies out of the bedrooms of kids if they want them to do well (in school)," said Czeisler.

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