Exposure to mobile screens can affect sleep

Author: Adrian O'Dowd

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Young people who use mobile phones at night could be damaging their mental wellbeing and experience poorer sleep, according to a report* published today.

A report produced by the University of Glasgow found that such use of phones could have a negative impact on sleep and mental wellbeing.

The report, 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 and included nine quantitative studies and two qualitative studies.

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.

Talking about the report on a visit to a sleep awareness session run by Sleep Scotland – a charity that tackles sleep problems of young people with disabilities and those from disadvantaged backgrounds – at Montessori Arts School in Edinburgh, Scottish 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 the spring and will add to the help and guidance available to help ensure young people can lead heathier lives.”

Sleep Scotland interim chief executive Karen Jenkinson said: “Poor sleep is a huge problem in our society, and excessive screen time is a contributing factor, leading to increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression. It’s time to wake up to the importance of sleep for our health and wellbeing.”


*Martin A, Pugmire J, Wells V, et al. Systematic literature review of the relationship between adolescents' screen time, sleep and mental health. University of Glasgow, 20 February 2020.

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