TEENAGERS who make a habit of using their mobile phones late into the night are putting their mental health at risk, according to a new study conduced by Murdoch and Griffith Universities.
In the world’s first long-term assessment of the effects of adolescents’ late-night mobile use, researchers tracked changes in the sleep and mental health indicators of 1100 Australian students over four years.
They found that late-night mobile phone use was directly linked to poor quality sleep, which subsequently led to poorer mental health outcomes, reduced coping, and lowered self-esteem.
Lead researcher Lynette Vernon, who conducted the study as part of her PhD, said this was the first longitudinal study that had investigated how night phone use and mental health were connected.
“We have demonstrated how poor sleep is the key link connecting an increase in night-time mobile use with subsequent increases in psychosocial issues,” Dr Vernon said.
“Heavy mobile phone use becomes a problem when it overtakes essential aspects of adolescent life.
“In this case, we see issues when it overtakes time set-aside for sleep.
“We found that late night phone use directly contributed to poor sleep habits, which over time led to declines in overall wellbeing and mental health.”
The study surveyed 1100 students from 29 schools annually, starting in Year 8 and following them until Year 11.
Students were asked what time of the night they received or sent text messages and phone calls, and their perceptions of their sleep quality.
The researchers also investigated adolescents’ symptoms of depressed mood, involvement in delinquency or aggression, and their coping and self-esteem over time.
The study found that teenagers tended to increase their late night mobile phone use as they got older, leading to progressively worse sleep.
Study co-author Kathryn Modecki said that increases in poor sleep led to rises in depressed mood and externalizing behaviours, and declines in self-esteem and coping.
Dr Vernon said the results were concerning but that the solution was not as simple as just banning adolescent phone use.
“There are many potential benefits of mobile technology, but these results demonstrate the importance of adults ‘meeting teens where they are’, enforcing electronic curfews, and teaching good sleep habits during the high school years,” she said.