Goodnight, Sleep Tight, Don’t Let the Cellphones Bite
Written by Emma Skoseth, undergraduate member of the Family Health Lab

 It’s no secret: when our kids say goodnight and head for their bedrooms, they may not truly be logging off. With a rise in cellphone ownership among adolescents comes a rise in usage, and in many households, the glow of these screens under the blanket well past bedtime is becoming a nightly reality. What may serve as an adolescent’s dream-ending to a busy day can be a parent’s nightmare, and this begs the question among caregivers and researchers alike: how does excessive use of cellphones impact the physical health of children? A review of academic literature done by Domoff et al. (2019) has found that while there are either mixed results or too few studies done on the linkage between excessive use of mobile device and a variety of physical health concerns, there is strong evidence that heavy device use has negative consequences for sleep outcomes; the examined studies support the claim that excessive smartphone use isn’t just a nightmare for parents, but can pose problems to children and their sleeping patterns.  

What the Research Says
The literature review looked at 25 studies that dealt with investigating the relationship between excessive usage of mobile devices and sleep health (Domoff et al., 2019). Different studies looked at different aspects of sleep health, examining sleep duration, overall sleep quality, sleep disruption, and delayed onset of sleep after going to bed. Strong evidence emerged from these studies that the excessive usage of mobile devices is associated with shorter sleep duration; additionally, the nighttime use of devices and social media is associated with poorer sleep quality.

What This Means: Fighting the Nightmare of Adverse Sleep Impacts
With strong evidence to support the claim that excessive usage of mobile devices has negative consequences for the sleep health of children and teenagers, actions should be taken to curb these mobile device habits, as quality sleep is essential to our health.

Parents and other caregivers should:
1. Promote a balanced amount of screen time, and set limits on mobile device use, especially at the end of the day.
2. Encourage children to leave their phones in a different room (not in their bedroom) and put devices away one-two hours before bedtime.

In addition to parents’ reducing screen media use around bedtime, youth also can work on creating a balance in their life. For example, at Central Michigan University, Dr. Sarah Domoff’s Family Health Lab has designed the Developing Healthy Social Media Practices intervention (DHSMP) for use in classrooms. An important component of DHSMP is helping youth identify how their phone use impacts their health. If you want your school or clinic to help youth reduce problematic or nighttime phone use, reach out to Dr. Domoff to learn more about bringing DHSMP to your community!

Click here to read the article.

Domoff, S. E., Borgen, A. L., Foley, R. P., & Maffett, A. (2019). Excessive use of mobile devices and children’s physical health. Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies, 1(2), 169-175.