July 28, 2008 10:40
If health damage associated with mobile phones is in the news again, it is not because of the electromagnetic waves that allegedly attack the brain. But new research suggests excessive use of mobile phones can hinder sleep, trigger fatigue and stress and cause mental problems like depression and lack of concentration.
At the recent annual meeting of the U.S. Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS), Dr. Gaby Badre from Sahlgren's Academy in Gothenburg, Sweden said teenagers who use their phones excessively are more prone to stress and fatigue. The study focused on 21 healthy people between 14 and 20 years of age with regular work or study hours and without sleep problems. The subjects were divided into two groups. Compared to the control group, who made less than five calls and/or sent five text messages a day, the experimental group made more than 15 calls and/or sent 15 text messages a day. And the latter suffered from increased restlessness, had more careless lifestyles, consumed more stimulating beverages, and reported difficulty falling asleep, disrupted sleep, and more susceptibility to stress and fatigue. Only one-third of them ate breakfast, compared with most in the control group.
The correlation between phone use and mental state was shown by a study published in the Korean Journal of Epidemiology in 2005 and conducted by a team led by Prof. Kim Dong-hyun, of the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine at Hallym University's College of Medicine. The team studied 501 high school students in four groups according to their cell phone use. Those who used them the least scored below 35 points on depression, while those who used the most scored above 51. The latter group also scored over 61 in terms of impulsive behavior. "We can't generalize that cell phone use causes depression or impulsive behavior, but at least we proved there's a connection," Kim said.
Han Doug-hyun, a professor of neuropsychiatry at Chung-Ang University Medical Center, says a brain wave scan of children with high mobile use showed a similar sleep cycle pattern to that of a depression patient. Conversely, depressive and impulsive children tended to rely more on mobile phones.
Then how much is too much? Mobile addiction is a novel concept compared to drug or Internet addictions. But experts say those who are at risk to becoming an addict are nervous without a phone, always tinker with it and are at ease only after making a call or texting someone. Doctors also note that texting can be more harmful than phone calls to mental health and sleep levels. Prof. Ha ji-hyun, of the Department of Psychiatry at Konkuk University Medical Center says, "A call is simultaneous communication, but an SMS is not. You can get nervous while waiting for the response."
Texting at night, itself a stimulus, seems inimical to sleep. Prof. Hong Seung-chul of the Department of Neuropsychiatry at Catholic University of Korea's St. Vincent's Hospital, cites a survey saying sound and light from an incoming text message disturbs sleep as it suppresses the hormone melatonin. It can wake up the person or prevent a sound sleep.
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