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Study: Tech gadgets robbing us of needed sleep

Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they're not getting enough sleep and late-night computer use, texting and video games are a significant part of the problem, according to a recent national survey.

Virtually all of Americans surveyed in the Sleep in America poll reported "very active" use of technology at least a few nights a week within an hour of bed.

"It is clear that we have a lot more to learn about the appropriate use and design of this technology to complement good sleep habits," said David Cloud, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation, which conducted the survey.

More than half of kids ages 13 to 18 text an hour before bed most nights and this group reports being the sleepiest of all, the survey found.

On average they report seven hours and 26 minutes of sleep a night on weeknights, nearly two hours shy of the nine hours and 15 minutes recommended by sleep experts.

It's a familiar story to Dr. Tracy Carbone, a sleep expert at the Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, N.J., who treats adolescents for sleep disorders that are affecting school performance, driving ability and moods and mental health.

"We're seeing more and more of this," said Carbone, director of The Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders and Apnea.

Not only is texting and Web surfing stimulating, but the artificial light from screens and cell phones suppresses the release of the hormone melatonin, which induces sleep, Carbone said.

It becomes a vicious cycle as the body's natural sleep cycle shifts to later and later, which in turn leads people to use their computer or surf the Internet when they can't sleep, she said.

While most parents and teens are aware of the dangers of drunken driving, very few are talking about the risks of driving while sleep-deprived, which can limit response time and increase the risk of accidents, she said.

Jonathan Paul, a Pequannock, N.J., teen, is among the perpetually exhausted.

The 17-year-old said he texts his girlfriend every night until he falls asleep around 2 a.m., then wakes five hours later for school.

He fell down some stairs last week because he was so drowsy, he said, revealing scrapes on his arm from the mishap. Focusing at school is a problem, especially early in the day, he said.

"The first couple of periods of the day, I try to function as much as possible," he said. But trading in the cell phone for a few more winks?

"No way, I need my phone," he said.

Dr. Susan Zafarlotfi, clinical director at the Institute for Sleep-Wake Disorders at Hackensack University Medical Center, is also treating more patients for sleep disorders that are fueled by late-night technology.

Whether it's teens on Facebook, executives preparing for presentations or stressed parents paying bills and arranging schedules after hours, the effect is the same, she said.

"You are reversing the clock," she said. "The stimulation makes it much harder to fall asleep."

While people in all age groups report technology use prior to sleep, the poll found -- not surprisingly -- that different age groups use different types of technology.

About two-thirds of baby boomers, those ages 46 to 64, watch television every night or almost every night within an hour of going to bed.

Yet only 5 percent of boomers report texting before bed compared to 42 percent of people ages 30 to 35.

Miriam Morales, a 42-year-old Clifton, N.J., woman, said she typically gets in bed around 9 p.m. and watches two hours of television before falling asleep.

A legal secretary with children, she often wakes in the middle of the night for an hour or two and can't get back to sleep because her mind is filled with a to-do list.

"It's terrible," she said. "But you do the best you can to be a good parent."

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