Mobile screen exposure can lead to poor sleep among young people

Published: 20 February 2020

Mobile phone use at night time is having a negative impact on young people’s sleep and mental wellbeing according to a newly published report.

Published 20th February 2020

New report by the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, commissioned by the Scottish Government, summarises the findings from a systematic review of the evidence on adolescent mobile device screen time and the impact on sleep. It found that:

  • sleep quality is negatively influenced by mobile phone use in general and social media in particular
  • night time mobile use and problematic social media use were linked to depressed mood through experiences of poor quality sleep
  • experiencing online bullying is directly linked to shorter sleep as a result of obsessing about distressing thoughts and emotions.

The report authors, Dr Juliana Pugmire and Dr Anne Martin, said:

“There are several possible pathways between mobile device screen exposures and poor sleep or mental health and wellbeing in young people over time. However, there are very few higher quality studies exploring these relationships. While the current evidence limits the recommendations that can be made, one study suggested two potential solutions to improve sleep and subsequently mental health and wellbeing: protecting young people against cybervictimisation and initiatives that strengthen resilience in adolescents."

Welcoming publication of the report, Mental Health Minister Clare Haughey said:

“There are many positive things about technology, screens and social media. However in a society where so many young people have access to a mobile device and social media platforms, it is important that we get an accurate picture of the impact that can have on their sense of emotional wellbeing and their ability to get a proper and uninterrupted sleep.

“Of course it’s not just young people who have a phone or tablet by the side of their bed every night but this research shows the potentially negative impact on children and young people.

“This review is a significant piece of work that gives us a much better insight into the connections between screen time, particularly social media use, and disrupted sleep.  While the evidence base is still developing, the findings demonstrate why, in February last year, we announced that we would be providing advice, specific to Scotland, on the healthy use of social media and screen time.

“That advice – being co-produced by young people and for young people – will be published in spring and will add to the help and guidance available to help ensure young people can lead heathier lives.” 

Systematic literature review of the relationship between adolescents’ screen time, sleep and mental health is available on the Scottish Government website.

First published: 20 February 2020

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