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Shay-Ruby has always been interested in the idea of promoting healthy habits to foster optimal well-being. As part of her PhD studies she is combining that interest with one of the most challenging issues for modern parents - kids' screen time!

Bedtime Electronic Devices (BED)

The BED study aims to understand how the evening use of electronic media (screens) affects sleep and mental health in young adolescents. Not getting enough sleep and poor mental health are major issues for tamariki and rangatahi in Aotearoa New Zealand. Of particular concern is NZ's high rate of youth depression and suicide, with 23% of secondary students reporting high levels of distress in the Youth19 Rangatahi Smart Survey.

One factor thought to lead to both poor sleep and poor mental health is the use of digital media. Previous research, based heavily on questionnaire data, has led to blanket recommendations such as “don't use screens in the hour before bed”. But most parents will know that these guidelines are difficult to implement and enforce in the real world. We need more sophisticated methods to ascertain the actual links between screen use and child well-being to enable better guidelines.

BED is using new technologies to more accurately measure how children use their screens in the evenings. The impact of that screen use is assessed by how well children sleep that night, and any resulting changes in diet, activity and mental health. Collecting these data gives a unique opportunity to develop more targeted guidelines around screen use and sleep, that hopefully have a much better chance of being implemented by children and their families.

Well-being an important focus

Following her undergraduate degree, Shay-Ruby completed a Master's in Psychology examining the relationship between different lifestyle behaviours (sleep, diet and physical activity) and mental health and well-being. She was very excited when the opportunity arose to undertake her PhD on the BED study.

Shay-Ruby hopes that this research, which more naturally captures complex screen behaviours, will determine how different types of screen use influence sleep and wellbeing, and will provide much needed guidance for future policy development.

Career-defining moments

Shay-Ruby grew up on a farm in Te Matau-a-Māui (Hawke's Bay) and absolutely loved animals. Initially she wanted to be a vet but when she fainted at the sight of blood on a school trip to the vet clinic, she decided that this might not be the career for her!

But through her postgraduate journey to date, Shay-Ruby has discovered that she loves doing research. She is keen to continue working in the area of sleep and well-being, as being able to research something you are passionate about is really rewarding.

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Shay-Ruby Wickham

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