Computer use negatively affects sleep, can be ‘a time suck’

Maria LaMagna

When midterms rolled around, Harrah Friedlander asked a friend to change her Facebook password so she would be able to concentrate on studying.

“I just feel like I get on (Facebook) any time I get online,” the Communication sophomore said. “It’s just a time suck for me.”

Medill Prof. Rachel Davis Mersey, who teaches Introduction to 21st Century Media, said students spend more time in front of the computer screen than they realize.

“There’s data to suggest that people spend more time interacting with media than there are hours in the day, ” she said. “They’re consuming multiple media at one time so the number is closer to 34 hours a day as opposed to 24 hours a day. I would assume a student at Northwestern is on the Internet eight hours a day at least.”

Video game enthusiast Steven Nguyen estimates he spends two to three hours playing online games in addition to the five hours he spends browsing the Web.

“I’m always in front of a computer,” the Weinberg freshman said.

Although the Internet doesn’t negatively affect his life, Nguyen said he does try to limit his recreational computer use “when midterms come around.” Extended time online has affected his studies, whether he’s playing video games or succumbing to the temptation of Facebook, he said.

“I try not to use it a lot, and I’ve tried to lessen my amount of Facebook use, but sometimes when I do homework, I just check Facebook for no reason,” Nguyen said. “If it’s on, it’s a distraction.”

This trend can be an even greater problem when students bring Internet temptation into the classroom, Mersey said. The professor said she warned students at the beginning of her first class to refrain from Web browsing during class.

“I make the announcement about computers because I think there’s a perception of students today that computer use is fine in class,” she said. “I see it as unprofessional behavior, and it’s not appropriate in the classroom.”

Negative health effects of excess Internet use can be significant, especially when students use computers close to bedtime, said Dr. Lisa Shives, medical director of Northshore Sleep Medicine.

Shives said she treats a “fair number” of college students for sleep conditions like delayed sleep phase and insomnia.

“We sit so close to our computers that the light shining in your eyes can trigger the brain that it’s time to get up and feed the chickens,” she said. “The light is an arousal mechanism and that can end up giving them circadian rhythm disorder or delayed sleep phase syndrome, where they go to bed later and later and become real night owls.”

Students should turn off their computers two hours before their desired bedtime, which should be at least seven hours before they want to wake up in the morning, Shives said.Nguyen said breaking the habit isn’t difficult.

“Just try to get away from it as much as you can for a couple days,” he said. “It gets easier after that.”

Friedlander said she needs as much time as possible for midterms, which means she won’t be browsing Facebook.

“Two whole weeks without Facebook,” she said. “It’s going to be crazy.”[email protected]