Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Teens losing sleep to electronic distractions

BY MARISSA LANG • MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS • JULY 22, 2009

To many parents, text messaging is an enigma -- a practice their children engage in when they could just make a phone call or walk down the street to their friends' houses. It seems to be a strange but harmless means of communication.

What most don't know is that too much texting can be detrimental to their teens' health. That's because new technologies, such as cell phones and social networking sites, give teens easy access to their friends 24 hours a day.

"The more technology we develop, the more we rely on technology," said Dr. Myrza Perez, a pediatric pulmonologist in California. A specialist in sleep disorders, she says "before technology, we went to sleep when the sun went down. Now, with all these distractions, teenagers alone in their rooms stay up to extremely late hours on their cell phones and computers. Their parents have no idea."

Sleep deprivation is leading to many daytime problems for teenagers, including headaches, impaired concentration and hyperactive behavior often misconstrued as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Often these symptoms are interpreted by doctors as problems meriting medication, when the best cure might be to turn off their phones at night.

Mikaela Espinoza, 17, of Sacramento, Calif., always used to sleep with her phone at her bedside, just in case a friend called or text-messaged her in the middle of the night.

"Whenever I'd hear my phone ring I would just, like, wake up and answer it," she said. "I think a whole bunch of kids text all night long."

Espinoza soon found herself suffering from migraine headaches throughout the day. Her primary physician's first instinct was to check her eyes. When that yielded no solutions, he sent her in for a CAT scan. It came back clear.

Eventually, Espinoza was diagnosed with a condition growing more common among teens: too much texting.

After her parents realized she wasn't sleeping enough, "They told me I needed to turn off my phone or have it taken away from me at night," she said.

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