Many families struggle to find the right balance for screen use, especially at night. Good sleep is important to teens’ healthy development and there are concerns about how screens might affect this. But it’s a complicated picture.
Sleeping patterns change during the teenage years, thanks to puberty and the demands of study and social lives. Many teens want to go to bed later, wake up later, and get more sleep than other age groups. Experts believe most teens need 8 – 10 hours’ sleep each night, although this can vary.
A study by the Royal Children’s Hospital found that more than two-thirds of Australian teens are using screens at bedtime. And a survey of more than 160,000 primary and secondary students found that more than half used their phones at night between 10 pm and 6 am at least once a week.
When we use screens at bedtime, they can:
Higher rates of sleeping problems have been observed among children and young people who use their phones at bedtime or for many hours each day, in studies done in Australia, the U.S., Europe, Taiwan, Japan, China, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia.
It may be too simple to say ‘screens cause bad sleep’. Experts are still learning how our sleep relates to the way we use technology. For example, some think that ‘interactive’ screen use such as social media, gaming and browsing YouTube videos poses a bigger threat to our sleep than ‘passive’ activities like watching movies and TV.
Some teens get on their devices at night because they are already awake for other reasons. Other things that can stop teens sleeping well include:
Studies have also found that teens who are on their phones at bedtime are at higher risk of being cyber bullied and sending angry or hurtful messages to other people. We can speculate about why. Are teens more likely to behave badly at night when they are tired? Do bullied teens feel pressure to check their devices at night to see what fresh nastiness is happening online? Are some teens using tech late at night and getting involved in bullying because they are not being supervised by caring adults? Every teen’s experience is different.
Check with your teens about how well they are sleeping. Do they often have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up? Do they often feel tired or irritable or have trouble concentrating? If you’re concerned, contact a trusted GP or headspace centre.
Agree with your teens on a reasonable time to stop using screens at night – and stick to this yourself! Your own habits influence your teens. For example, Raising Children Network advises turning off screens at least an hour before bed. A family charging station in the living room can help to keep phones out of bedrooms.
If your teens are online a lot at night, try to understand why. Some teens feel pressure to stay available to their friends 24/7. They may need your help to set boundaries.
Support your teens to spend time with their friends in person during the day.
And if you are supporting teens who have been bullied, check how they are sleeping. It may be necessary to connect them with a GP or psychologist for support.