This column is scary. Proceed with caution.

This column is scary. Proceed with caution.

I don’t mean scary like Halloween, ghosts, and whatever. I mean it has a healthy dose of reality which brings frightening truths forward.

Last week, my teacher started a lecture with, “Raise your hand if you sleep with your phone next to your head.” About two-thirds of the class raised their hand. The other third quickly pointed out why they didn’t, claiming it was unhealthy and dangerous. Fact or fiction?

According to certain studies, sleeping with your cell phone near your head can mess up the amount of sleep one can get and also one’s dream patterns. More severe trauma, some scientists say, can result in brain damage and tumors.

Others say this is just a myth.

However, immediately interested, I knew this was a good topic for others to be aware of.

I decided to ask 75 of my friends and family members what they did with their phone at night. The results were a bit expected. Of the 75 people, 64 percent said they slept with the phone near their head and 36 percent said they didn’t.

About 77 percent of those I asked who answered “Yes” were under the age of 18. I am not too surprised that this age group admitted to keeping their phone near them. Socialization is vital to young people of this generation. They (or should I say we since I, too, am guilty) will stay up all night waiting for a text or call. Not all reasons were because of one’s social life. Many said they used their phones as alarm clocks. Still others said they felt more comfortable having their phones near them in case of an emergency. Similar reasoning came from other age groups of the “phone huggers.”

However, the majority of those against having their phone near their head were also under the age of 18. Many claimed it caused brain damage and cancer, which was something they didn’t want. Others just don’t need it by their side, keeping them on chargers in other rooms. Perhaps my favorite notion was made by those who put their phone across the room so when the alarm would go off, they would have to physically get up to turn it off. I might even have to try that!

 This experiment, however, wasn’t very precise. Most importantly, most of the people in my contacts are closer to my age, so I obviously didn’t get too much of what adults thought. Also, I didn’t specify on what “near” was, as I had many people ask me if on their bedside table was considered to be close enough.

In January 2008, www.alternet.org published the results of a recent study on this topic. It was carried out by scientists from the blue-chip Karolinska Institute and Uppsala University in Sweden and from Wayne State University in Michigan. It caused much concern among sleep experts.

The scientists studied 35 men and 36 women between the ages of 18 and 45. Some were exposed to radiation that exactly mimicked what is received when using cell phones; others were placed under the same conditions, but given a “sham” exposure, which had no radiation. Those who received radiation took longer to enter the first stages of sleep, and spent less time in the deepest times. The scientists concluded: “The study indicates that during laboratory exposure to 884 MHz wireless cignals components of sleep believed to be important for recovery from daily wear and tear are adversely affected.”

Mobile manufacturers downplayed the results, saying that the “results were inconclusive.”

Another recent research followed 1,656 Belgian teens for a year, and found most of them used their phones after going to bed. Its conclusions? Those who did this once a week were more than three times as likely to be “very tired.”

Other researchers found that mobile phone signals affected deep non-REM sleep: it took longer to reach this stage, and the amount of sleep was reduced.

The type of cell phone matters, too. Earlier this year, the Environmental Working Group released a list of the 10 highest- and lowest-emitting cell phone models. This list can be found on the Environmental Working Group website, or at www.cnn.com. The “specific absorption rate” or SAR is a common benchmark that measures the rate of radiofrequency energy your body gets from the phone. The lower the number, the lower the radiation exposure. For a phone to be certified by the FCC and sold in the U.S., its maximum SAR level must be less than 1.6 watts per kilogram. However, your actual exposure will depend on how much you use on your phone, your carrier and network-specific conditions.

Also, there is no conclusive evidence that a phone with a higher SAR level poses a health risk – greater or not – than a model that emits less radiation. The LG Quantum by AT&T has the lowest radiation level, with 0.35 watts per kilogram, and the Motorola Bravo by AT&T has the highest radiation level, with 1.59 watts per kilogram.

After reading all of this, I’m sure many are wondering whether any of this can potentially lead to health issues. Honestly, I still haven’t found a resource that gives an argument that this is for sure dangerous. Obviously, we can take away that it does affect sleep with the REM cycles. And, I can say that it more directly affects teens.

On average, teens need about 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 hours of sleep, according to numerous studies. Yet, most teens only get 6-7 hours of sleep because of activities, homework and stress. Perhaps in a few years, cell phone usage will contribute to the lack of sleep.

For more information on how cell phone usage can affect the brain, www.mercola.com is a great resource.

Our job is to be aware of what everyday activities can cause. Learning about this could prevent future health risks.

So start reading!