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Sleepless in Cyberland

A study reported this year in the Journal of Adolescence found that heavy internet use among children and young adults correlates with a significantly higher risk for obesity, skipping meals, and sleep disorders.  While the majority of young people regularly engage in cyber activities without a problem, many are becoming addicted and ruining their chances for a successful life.  Among the folks who make their way to me and my cyber recovery groups, excessive video gaming and computer usage accompany poor academic performance more than 80 percent of the time.

Sharon, a single mother, suffered from fibromyalgia.  She needed lots of sleep and regularly went to bed around ten p.m.  Her thirteen-year-old son, Trevor, pretended to go to bed at the same time, but would wait fifteen or twenty minutes for his mother to fall asleep, then quietly creep downstairs, log on to the computer and play World of Warcraft until the wee hours of the morning—with his mother none the wiser.  His obsession with this online, multiplayer, fantasy role-playing game started in late September, a point which marked the appearance of a variety of disturbing symptoms.

First of all, his grades began a steady downward slide.  By January, he was failing all of his classes, including Gym.  “He complains of being too tired to do anything,” the Phys. Ed. teacher said, “and nobody wants him on their team because he is pretty much useless.”  Teachers in his academic subjects described a boy who frequently fell asleep in class and rarely had homework completed.  Trevor had never been a stellar student, but had always put forth good effort.  His mother and teachers struggled for answers.

Sandy, a mother of a 14-year-old girl with a very high IQ, also searched for answers upon learning that her daughter, Nicki, was failing four out of six classes.  She had effortlessly managed all A’s for the entirety of her school career.  Sandy wondered about possible depression, anxiety and even ADHD.  But careful examination of the cell phone bill revealed that Nicki was sending hundreds of text messages during the school day and late at night, and obviously not paying attention to anything except contacting her friends.  “I just couldn’t stop,” Nicki told me.  “I knew I needed to stop, but something kept me going.”  Nicki’s example demonstrates how cyber behaviors can become problems of impulse control, one of the features of a true addiction.

When you have a child, especially an adolescent, who appears sleep deprived, look first to his or her Internet, computer, and texting behaviors.  If the cyber world seems to be creating a problem, it is important to set limits.  These behaviors can quickly verge on obsession.  The more timely and swift your response, the more successful you will be at heading off serious issues down the road.  If your attempts to curtail your child’s cyber behaviors are proving unsuccessful, seek professional help immediately.  Some deeper problems may underlie what you’re observing.

  • Have you ever examined your cell phone bill to get an idea of your child’s texting behavior?
  • Is your child getting enough sleep?
  • Is the cyber world preventing your child from reaching his or her true potential?
  • Please add your voice to the discussion by clicking on, LEAVE A RESPONSE below.

19 Responses to “Sleepless in Cyberland”

  1. Janson says:

    Kevin,

    I loved this article! I can relate to Trevor, I did the exact same thing when I was in the 7th and 8th grade with World of Warcraft too. I’ve read from various sources that the reason individuals find it so hard to sleep after playing video games/being on the internet is because of how bright the screen is which may mess up being tired. Have you ever heard of f.lux? It’s a free program that applies a small colored tint to your computer screen depending on the time of the day. It may help reduce the harsh brightness of computer screens and help people sleep easier. Personally, it’s worked wonders for me and I suggest you try it out and see if it works for you too!

  2. Will E. says:

    some solutions to the late night gaming/texting that i have heard and/or implimented are
    1. setting time limiters under parental controls on the computer

    2. removing the power cord from the gaming console for the night and keeping it hiden/locked away

    3. turning off and taking of phone before bed

    4. phisicaly removing the battery from phone/laptop

    5. (this one i still am questioning but may be useful)
    turning off all power to the house but alarms and food storage

    hopefully this will help with your late night gamers/texters

  3. Brooke says:

    Very interesting!!! I never thought about this

  4. Ardis Rutley says:

    Clues to excessive cyber-time often show in the elementary school classroom during writing composition. When requested, the student often writes about the computer games played or is at a complete loss to write on any topic or moment in time. When instructed to write a story, I have often received detailed adventure stories that have complicated plots and multifaceted character personalities. Students may not write at all and instead create detailed drawing of weapons, bombings, explosions and victims of violence.

    • kevin says:

      Ardis, what a unique perspective! I hadn’t quite considered that angle, but it certainly makes sense that if children spend hours playing video games, then video games would show up in their writing. I think we need to invent a fun video game that teaches writing. Does something exist? If not, perhaps we should talk. I think we could both get rich. I really value your elementary school perspective; please keep up with this blog and consider gifting us with your valuable viewpoint!

  5. Kelly says:

    It sounds like Sandy’s daughter would benefit from a “test” for OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), it is common and perpetuated by the never-ending pressure put on teens. (Read about the “teacup thoery”) The double-edged sword is that the most common treatment for OCD in pill form are sedatives, and then there is a whole other risk for addiction.

    On a side note, my former partner, at 35, used to play similar cyber games. When he ran into personal struggles he developed an increasing interest in being the ‘player’ on the screen than being himself. It affects all ages.

    • kevin says:

      Well Kelly, yes it does impact all ages, including a 78-year-old retired biology professor who plays solitaire for 6 hours a day instead of doing what he really wants, write his memoirs. Thanks for your remarks and keep participating please.

    • Jimbo says:

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  6. Kaltra says:

    As a teen myself, I noticed that as soon as my parents got me unlimited texting and internet on my phone, i have drifted away from spending time with family to constantly checking my phone. My phone bearly leaves my hand and I find that it is an essential to my life now. Sadly, this is the truth. I see the same thing in my friends and peers.

    • kevin says:

      Kaltra, thanks for your honesty. Have you ever considered that maybe taking a break from your phone might benefit your relationships? I call it a “phone fast.” It is something I do one day a week. It helps me appreciate my friends, and, ironically, appreciate my phone more. Thanks for your remarks.

  7. Michael Irwin says:

    I have read somewhere that staring at a screen late at night upsets your circadian rhythms.

    Usually good to have the screen brightness as low anyway but this is especially true at night.

    • kevin says:

      Mike, I cannot right this minute put my finger on the studies, but there are plenty of them suggesting exactly that. I recommend a minimum of one electronics-free hour before bed.

  8. Christopher says:

    There are many reasons people get addicted to chat and online video games. Video Game addiction is like gambling addiction…a feeling of “oh just one more level, just one more pull, just one more hand, etc.” There is a sort of high one gets when they complete a level, just like the one they get from winning a jackpot. Chat addiction comes from that who gets the last word in thing…most people who are addicted don’t know how to say “goodbye, talk to you later” and leave it at that. Worse when one has more than 100 people in their contacts list who are texting them at a time, one feels they have to respond to every single one, so it becomes a viscous cycle, made worse by high maintenance friends who get mad when they don’t get a timely response, so one keeps chatting away not aware that life is passing them by.

    Online video games combine the worst of both worlds by combining chat with a fantasy world…it creates the feeling that one is part of something greater because interacting with real people who are also playing the game creates a feeling that there is another world, another place one can belong and be accepted.

    It would take many paragraphs to go into why some are more prone to being addicted than others, but addiction to video games and texting, just like addictions to alcohol, sex, food, television, etc. tends to be a result of people who have a void inside and are looking for a quick escape. It’s one thing to escape once in awhile, but when it becomes a full-time thing, it becomes unhealthy.

    • kevin says:

      Well Christopher, perhaps you should consider writing a guest blog! You certainly have given this issue some careful reflection. I agree with you about the vicious cycle. It just seems to perpetuate itself and be very hard to escape. THanks for adding your voice to the discussion, and I strongly encourage one as reflective as you to comment often. We need your voice in the debate. That is a very interesting email address you have. It reminds me of one of a friend of mine: nexttimearthurdoesthatitsbyebyearthur@yahoo.com

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