Teenagers’ late-night mobile phone use is harming their sleep and potentially their mental health, say researchers who advised that “physical boundaries” be set over use of such devices in the bedroom.

A longitudinal study of 1,101 Australian high school students aged between 13 and 16 found poor-quality sleep associated with late-night texting or calling was linked to a decline in mental health, such as depressed moods and declines in self-esteem and coping ability.

Lead researcher, Lynette Vernon of Murdoch University in Perth, said her findings were evidence of the need for curfews for teenagers to be established around use of devices in their bedrooms. Adolescents who used their phones as alarms should replace them with clocks in order to maintain “physical boundaries”, she said.

Researchers examined teenagers’ mobile phone use and their subsequent changes in wellbeing over four years of high school from 2010 to 2013, and found increasingly unencumbered access led to increases in psychosocial maladjustment.

Vernon said mobile phones had become entrenched in young people’s lives, and many did not have their use restricted. She pointed to international research that found about 80% of the young had access to a mobile phone.

The former high school teacher said she had observed her own pupils coming into the classroom tired. “I noticed it was affecting their performance – that was a few years back, too.”

Though the link between late-night phone use and sleep, and between sleep and wellbeing, had been established in previous research, this was the first study to assess all three together, she said.

“It’s important to have the research to translate to parents and teachers, who probably haven’t experienced to the same extent what kids are doing.

“If you’re finding your son or daughter is more moody and not coping at school, you often put that down to adolescence – but it could be as simple as them not sleeping at night.”

The study specified sending and receiving messages and/or phone calls, so did not distinguish between mobile phones and smartphones or social media.

– Elle Hunt

Read More: Teenagers’ sleep quality and mental health at risk over late-night mobile phone use

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