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Mobile phone use by teenagers at night-time linked to decline in wellbeing

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Increased use of mobile phones by teenagers at night has been linked to changing sleep patterns and, in turn, a decline in their wellbeing, a new study from Australia has found.

The study of 1,101 students aged between 13 and 16 years old, is thought to be the first to prove the direct link between higher mobile phone use and a rise in externalizing behaviour – such as aggression – decreased self-esteem and coping skills.

“There are some risks associated with heavy use, particularly when after-hours engagement displaces sleep”

Study authors

However, using mobile phones at night was not “significantly associated” with a change in depressed mood, according to the study paper.

Those behind the research suggested it could be because depressed adolescents may stop using their phones as much to contact friends. This could mean night-time use of other technology – such as devices to access social media – could be more closely linked to poor sleep and depression, they said.

Teenagers were also using their mobile phones more as they got older, said the study, published in the journal Child Development.

The findings were “particularly noteworthy” because they were still found to be true, regardless of how late the teenager went to bed, stated the paper.

The study suggested the use of “electronic curfews” to help young adults develop during secondary school.

“Adolescents who reported lower levels of night-time phone use in eighth grade had steeper increases in use over time”

Study authors

“Those adolescents who reported lower levels of night-time phone use in eighth grade had steeper increases in use over time,” said the researchers.

“Furthermore, on average, girls and lower socioeconomic adolescents reported higher levels of night-time use in eighth grade; thus, programmes focused on healthy use of technology may be especially helpful in early adolescence for these youth,” they said.

As they become older, young adults could be encouraged to use apps on their phones to track their sleeping patterns themselves to “arm young people with enough information to bolster their motivation to improve their sleep habits”, said the study authors.

“Although mobile phones have a role in improving adolescents’ health and psychosocial wellbeing, this study shows there are some risks associated with their heavy use, particularly when after-hours engagement displaces adolescents’ sleep,” they concluded.

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