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Are digital distractions keeping teens from much-needed ZZZ's?

NBC’s Nancy Snyderman presents a new study published today about how older people cannot multi-task as well as teens, given the growing daily use of online and mobile technologies. The 20-year study by the National Institutes of Health examines the impact of these technologies as both a “digital distraction” and training for a better multi-tasking brain.

Teens have always been complicated creatures. Add to their adolescent angst the plethora of digital distractions they encounter these days, and you get even more complexities to deal with. As parents, we can't help but worry – is all that texting and gaming and surfing somehow warping their fragile minds?

In the two-part series, "The Teen Brain: A Work in Progress," from NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams, some interesting results came out. For one thing, teens today have become master multitaskers. (Watch a kid do homework and it's like a digital command zone, with textbooks, computers and smart phones all playing a role in learning.) Apparently teens are spending approximately 7.5 hours a day with some kind of technology.


One surprising finding: Researchers say that multitasking might be making teen minds stronger, because it serves as cross-training exercise for brains. Still, it's important for parents to help kids keep things in balance by insisting on some tech-free downtime.

Video: The teenage brain in the digital age

Another issue has to do with teens and sleep, or more specifically, how they aren't getting enough of it. In the series, NBC Chief Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman examined the toll sleep deprivation can have on our kids and says that researchers now worry there may be many serious consequences.


Young people are sleeping just 7.5 hours on weeknights, a full two hours less than experts recommend for adolescents, according to the National Sleep Foundation. (Wait, isn't that the same amount of time they're spending on technology?) Such sleep deficits can result in everything from attention deficit disorder to obesity to lack of motivation to immune problems, scientists now believe.

Sleep in teens -- how much is enough?

And you can bet that one aspect of why teens are sleeping less has to do with the tempting technologies in their bedrooms. (Yes, teen nation, we're talking about those of you who need to sleep with your cell phones. Turn them off! We promise they'll still be texting you in the morning.)

What do you think – are digital distractions negatively or positively impacting your teen's brain?  And what about sleep -- does your teen get enough of it? How do you help them get the rest they need?