SPECIAL REPORT: Desperate for Sleep--Is your child's cell phone causing the problem?

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - American households are not slacking when it comes to cell phone accessibility in the home and it's almost impossible to find a teen who doesn't own a smartphone.

The paradigm shift started to evolve in 2009 when smartphones hit the market. According to research by San Diego State University professors, there was a 17 percent increase in students reporting sleeping seven hours or less per night, starting in 2009.

In our special report, "Desperate for Sleep," a teen who is always on his phone, his mother and a local professor who's done extensive research on the effects of sleep deprivation on children, adolescents and teens discuss the epidemic.

Jeffrey Price, a 17-year-old high school senior from Harris County, Georgia, admits when he's not outside playing sports he's probably on his phone for most of the day.

"When I get up, I do a couple of things and grab my phone," added Jeffrey. When he's at school, he's also allowed to use the device in every class, except for one.

Jeffrey was shocked when we told him about a San Diego State University study indicating teens are sleep deprived and screens are the reason why.

Jeffrey responded, "Personally, I feel I'm okay, but according to numbers, I'm really missing out on that extra sleep."

Jeffrey is right, he's missing out on sleep time that he needs to help him focus more in class. The SDSU study recommends teens should get between 8 and 10 hours of sleep every night. On average, Jeffrey says he gets about six to seven hours of sleep per night.

Exposure from all devices-- cell phones, tablets, computers or a television affects children's hormones. It suppresses the release of melatonin which makes children less sleepy, according to Dr. El Sheikh, a professor at Auburn University's College of Human Sciences.

Although Jeffrey doesn't seem to think his lack of sleep is a problem, his mom Samantha Smith knows best.

"Puffy eyes, his eyes are really, really puffy and some mornings it'll be tough to really get him up and going," explained Smith.

Dr. El-Sheikh and her partners have done extensive study on adolescents sleep patterns and the health problems associated with not getting enough shut-eye.  Unlike the SDSU study, surprisingly, Dr. El-Sheikh found eight hours of sleep is not enough for children, adolescents, or teens.

"Children and adolescents need more like 10 to 11 hours of sleep which is something that is not known as well. A lot of people think eight hours is enough," recalled El-Sheikh.

Dr. El-Sheikh also said this is a time when the brain is developing. "They're developing neural-connections so sleep is very important for consolidating information and memory."  A lack of sleep means children may not be attentive and focused while in class."

Using devices that look like watches, Dr. El Sheikh gathers information about sleep duration and sleep quality from children who wear the watches home for a week. "What we are finding is children who are sleeping longer, having better quality sleep and more consistent schedules tend to have much better outcomes.

Better outcomes in the areas of mental health, depression, anxiety, even higher SAT scores, according to Dr. El Sheikh.

Smith says since her son is headed into adulthood, it's now time for him to make wise decisions, but she can attest to the adverse effects of his cell phone usage. "It has affected his grades," said Smith.

As a parent, you may be wondering what you can do to limit your child's phone usage.

Experts recommend creating a designated charging station away from the child's bedroom. That way when it's lights out, the cellphone is out of reach.

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