Phone use at bedtime impacts more than sleep

Mobile phones are an essential part of most teenage boys’ lives but new research shows those boys who use their phones late into the night are experiencing poor sleep and mental health problems.

Researchers from Murdoch and Griffith Universities studied more than 1000 WA students aged 13-16 years over a four year period, finding increased night-time mobile phone use was directly linked to depressed moods in teens, decreased self-esteem and lower coping capabilities among participants in the study.

Head researcher Lynette Vernon said mobile phone use was a problem for teens when using the phone took priority over other essential parts of their lives – i.e. sleep.

“We found that late night phone use directly contributed to poor sleep habits, which over time led to declines in overall wellbeing and mental health,” Dr Vernon said.

The students’ phone habits were tracked from Year 8 to Year 11. By Year 11 78 per cent of students studied admitted to using their phones after bedtime to text or call friends, use social media or the internet.

Dr Vernon said banning a teen’s phone may not be the answer to improving sleep patterns and associated behaviours. Rather, negotiating may be a key to striking a healthy balance between phone usage and sleep.

Dr Vernon offered a number of tips to parents in an interview with The West Australian, including;

  • Using negotiation to manage phone usage alongside other activities/needs in teen lives, i.e. school, homework, sporting commitments and sleep
  • Encouraging teens to be responsible for monitoring their own sleep patterns using a fitbit or sleep app
  • Keeping phones off bedside tables – buy an alarm clock or use an old phone which does not have access to the internet/phone calls