Screen Time Late at Night May Affect Sleep in Teens

Teens between the ages of 10 to 17 need more than just 8 hours of sleep to feel rested and rejuvenated. Teens are still developing in a myriad ways and they need a significant amount of rest to support their growth. In fact, teens need about 9 to 9 ½ hours of sleep each night. However, many teens are staying awake with the blue light of their phones or Ipads, posting on social media, reading other’s posts, texting, or emailing. According to a new study, all of this screen time before bed may be affecting not only their sleep but also their mental health.


Recent Study on Screen Time and Mental Health


The journal Child Development recently published a study that shows the connection between using a cell phone late at night and an increased rate in anxiety and depression. Researchers of the study commented that rates of anxiety and depression have gone up 70% in the last 20 years, highlighting one cause as the increased use of technology. The study showed that teens who use their phone late at night can lead to:

  • disrupted sleep
  • increased depression
  • emotional fragility
  • behavioral concerns
  • low self esteem
  • anxiety
  • less satisfaction with life

Apparently, it’s not so much what teens are doing on their phones. It is the fact that phone use interrupts sleep which leads to other problems. Furthermore, 50% of teens report that they feel addicted to their phones. When it’s time to go to bed that compulsion to want to grab the phone remains, and teens may stay up using Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.


Another element to the published study is that there may be a higher risk for adolescent girls. Over the years, researchers have seen a trend showing that teen girls tend to get less sleep than teen boys. For this reason, this study may point to that the fact that teen girls may be more vulnerable to missing out on their sleep as a result of technology use. While all teens may be affected by screen time before bed, teen girls may be particularly at risk. Again, the danger the study pointed to is that less sleep can eventually lead to higher increase in mental illness, and in teen girls there is already an increase in the rates of depression.


Dangers of Late Night Social Media


Typically, teens can spend 9 or more hours on social media every day. This is a large amount of time that a teen may be staring at their phone. This number changes slightly for younger teens. Adolescents ages 8-12 tend to spend roughly 6 hours on online media sites, while for teens 13 to 18 it’s 9 hours or more.


The study described above is not the only research on the link between social media and poor sleep. Another study done in England by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) revealed that overall social media involvement affected a teen’s sleep quality, but that those who were online at night appear to be the most affected. The RSPH report also ranks the most influential social media both positively and negatively:

  • You Tube had the most positive effect on a teen’s mental health and well being.
  • Snapchat and Instagram had the most detrimental effects on a teen.

Keep in mind that late night social media can have the following effects:

  • the light from screen time suppresses melatonin
  • the content teens are engaged in on the phone or Ipad may be stimulating
  • may contribute to a teen’s anxious thoughts
  • teens can’t rest their mind enough to fall asleep

According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is food for the brain. And if teens don’t get the right dose of sleep each night, there may be some health costs, including mental illness. Although social media itself doesn’t cause mental illness, the lack of sleep as well as the inability to concentrate (if frequently interrupted by a text or post or email) might contribute to a teen’s symptoms. Furthermore, due to the incredible amount of growth teens are experiencing, teens really need to be doing the following, instead of spending time on social media:

If parents can help limit their teen’s screen time and engaged in healthy activities, it can promote an adolescent’s physical, emotional, and psychological well being.

How Parents Can Help


To help limit the amount of screen time a teen engages in before bed, parents might try the following:

  • Begin when your children are young. Establish clear times of the day when they can use technology and when they can’t. In other words, establish curfews for using the phone and other devices from a young age.
  • Set time limits. In addition to setting curfews, time limits are also important. Research has found that approximately two hours per day is about the right amount of online activity.
  • Keep all the technological devices in your bedroom at night. Phones, Ipads, and computers can charge overnight but in the parents’ bedroom.
  • Model good habits for your teen. If you expect your teen to stay away from the phone at night, then all adults in the home should do the same. There may be great resistance from teens if this isn’t the case.

If you find that your teen is using the Internet and social media for emotional reasons, help your teen to structure the amount of time spent on social media sites. For instance, you might allow your teen to update their status, check their news feed, and read messages from 7-9pm once a day. To avoid excessive social media use and any associated mental health risks, encourage your teen to stick to no more than 2 hours.

Furthermore, remember that teens need 9 to 9 ½ hours at night to keep their brain and body functioning at optimal levels for academic performance, physical health, and emotional well being. Don’t let social media or other online activity get in the way of healthy activities for your teen, especially sleep.