How Screen Time Affects Teens’ Sleep

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Written by Afy Okoye

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Breus

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Experts recommend that teenagers get 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night. However, most teens do not get enough sleep. Experts warn that too much screen time may be partially to blame.

The average teen uses electronic screens for more than seven hours a day. While working on a computer may be beneficial for schoolwork, spending too much time on electronics for entertainment may be detrimental to their health and can have a significant impact on sleep.  
Teens are inundated with technology, and most keep media devices in their bedrooms. This may explain in part why sleep issues in teens are on the rise. It can be tricky to ease a teen off their devices, but we discuss some simple ways to reduce the impact of screen use on teen sleep, such as turning devices off an hour before bedtime.

What Is the Impact of Screen Time on Teen Sleep?

Spending unhealthy amounts of time on the internet can upset the sleep-wake cycle that controls when teens feel tired or awake. The more time a teen spends on their devices, the less time they spend doing other daily activities, such as exercising and being outdoors. This can get their body’s circadian rhythm out of sync and lead to sleep problems, including insomnia

Teens who spend a lot of time on their screens tend to go to bed later and sleep fewer hours each night. They also may have difficulty falling asleep, have fragmented, poor quality sleep, and experience tiredness during the day. 

Many of these sleep issues may be due to teens having cell phones in their rooms and being awakened by phone calls and text messages. In fact, research has found that approximately 20% to 40% of teens have been woken up by their phone at least once each month. 

In addition to cell phone use, experts cite other concerning statistics about teen screen behavior.

  • Bedroom Use: 75% of teens have at least one electronic device in their bedroom.
  • Bedtime Use: 60% routinely use a media device before bed.
  • Daily Use: On average, children and teens spend a total of 7.5 hours a day using screens for entertainment, including televisions, computers, and video games.

While both daytime and evening screen use may affect sleep patterns, research points to bedtime use as having the greatest impact on a teen’s sleep. The sleep disruption may be even greater when teens use their electronic devices in the dark. Even just keeping an electronic device in a bedroom can lead to poor sleep. 

One reason excessive teenage media consumption raises concerns is its potential influence on the developing teen brain. Experts aren’t quite sure how screen time affects brain function and behavior. Some researchers believe that growing young brains may be more vulnerable to the effects of electronic devices than adults are.

Screen use, depressive symptoms, and sleep habits interact and perpetuate each other in a complex relationship. For example, screen time appears to contribute to both insomnia and depression. Depression may then worsen existing sleeping difficulties. Finally, insomnia may exacerbate addictive screen behavior, continuing the unhealthy cycle. 

Research suggests that screens may interfere with sleep due to lost sleep time, light exposure, and stimulation from media content. 

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Lost Sleep Time Due to Screen Use

Sometimes it seems that teens just can’t put their phones and other electronics down. When they choose to stay up late, either surfing the internet or watching TV, they may be cutting into valuable sleep time. 

Teens sometimes try to make up for lost weeknight sleep by sleeping in on the weekends. However, research has found that teens who text and use social media at bedtime may continue to sleep fewer hours on the weekends. Therefore, sleeping late on weekends may not be enough to make an impact on sleep debt from excessive screen use.

Light Exposure Affects Sleep

The blue light emitted from electronic screens can interfere with falling and staying asleep. Bright lights suppress the hormone melatonin, which tells your body when it’s time to sleep. Research suggests that children and teens may be more sensitive to blue light than adults. 

Exciting and Violent Media Content

Several studies show that media content also affects sleep. In one study, people who played exciting video games before bed had elevated heart rates, difficulty falling asleep, and less time spent in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Loss of REM sleep is concerning for teens because it is important for learning and memory. 

Other research suggests that interactive media, such as video games, seem to make sleeping more difficult than passive television viewing. And media that portrays violence seems to have a stronger impact on sleep than non-violent media. 

Which Screens Affect Sleep the Most?

Experts aren’t sure which types of screens affect sleep the most. Research suggests that most media devices with blue light-emitting screens are linked to poor quality sleep. However, some studies have identified differences in sleep outcomes depending on the screen type and the interactivity and intensity of the content. 

For example, computer use may have a stronger effect than TV watching on length of sleep. Teens who spend more time on touch screen devices have higher rates of sleep disturbances, and, in particular, more time using tablets is linked to worse overall sleep quality and more nighttime awakenings.

The Effect of Sleep Deprivation on Teens

Excessive screen time can lead to sleep deprivation in teens, which can in turn lead to other problems. Teens need 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night. However, 6 in 10 middle schoolers and 7 in 10 high schoolers do not get the recommended amount of sleep, putting them at risk for many physical and mental health problems.

Chronic lack of sleep may increase a teen’s risk for depression. Not getting enough sleep can also cause irritability, impulsiveness, and difficulty paying attention, which can cause problems in school or driving. Some sleep-deprived teens may lack motivation and have difficulty getting along with others. 

Additional research suggests that lack of sleep due to too much screen time raises a teen’s risk of becoming obese. This may be due to lack of physical activity and nighttime eating while engaging in online activities. 

How Much Screen Time Is Too Much for Quality Sleep?

Studies have indicated that the longer a teen spends on their screen, the worse their sleep may be. Therefore, experts say that screen time should be limited to two hours a day. Teens who spend more than two hours on screen time in the evening may have non-refreshing sleep, low energy the next day, and long-term insomnia.

When Should Teens Stop Screen Time So It Doesn’t Affect Sleep?

Experts suggest putting electronic devices, such as phones and tablets, away at least one hour before bedtime. They recommend that teens avoid any use of electronics at night time altogether. A healthy bedtime routine can instead include reading a book or engaging in family time.

Reducing the Effects of Screen Time on Sleep

It’s important for parents and caregivers to understand that teens are naturally drawn to technology as a way to connect with others, seek excitement, and obtain information. Technology has become a part of many teens’ everyday routines. However, it’s also important for teens to understand that too much screen time can impact their sleep and well-being. 

Parents and caregivers should consider taking a balanced approach to foster productive use of technology and minimize potentially unhealthy consequences. A few simple household media rules and changes to your teen’s screen behavior can encourage healthy sleep habits.

  • Remove Electronic Devices From the Bedroom: Computers, tablets, and other media devices should be kept outside of the bedroom to minimize nighttime distractions.
  • Turn the Phone Off: If you can’t keep the phone out of your teen’s bedroom entirely, encourage them to switch their phone off when they go to bed to stop nighttime awakenings from phone calls and text messages.
  • Replace Screen Time With Physical Activity: Suggest that your teen do a physical activity after school, such as going for a walk, instead of playing video games or watching TV.
  • Cut Back on Social Screen Use: Explain to your teen that using a phone or tablet for more than two hours a day for social activities is considered excessive and can impair their sleep.
  • Decrease Screen Time During Certain Times of the Day: Keep screens off-limits during meal times and homework, unless they are needed for school.
  • Choose Non-Violent Media: Help your teen choose calming and non-violent media to reduce stimulation and subsequent sleep problems.
  • Wear Blue Light Blocking Glasses: If your teen continues to read from a tablet or other electronic device, encourage them to wear special blue light blocking glasses that filter out the artificial blue light.
  • Motivate Your Teen: While teens can sometimes be reluctant to change their behaviors, they may be more open to change when they fully understand the consequences. Pointing out that sleep loss may have led to fatigue or a low grade on a test may motivate them to reevaluate their habits. 
  • Be a Role Model: Parents and caregivers can set a good example for children and teens by modeling healthy sleep routines and limiting their own screen time. 

Remember, experts recommend that teens get more sleep than most adults. Talk to your teen about establishing healthy screen media behaviors that contribute to good health and good sleep.

About The Author

Afy Okoye

Staff Writer, Sleep Health


Afy is a writer and creative strategist in San Francisco with a master’s degree in international health policy from the London School of Economics. She has written for VeryWell Health, BlackDoctor.org, and Paste magazine and edited peer-reviewed journal manuscripts for Elsevier. Afy says her work with The Sleep Doctor is anything but “sleepy.” She enjoys the opportunity to learn new information and share knowledge that gives people the power to make better choices. Afy also likes to read non-fiction, do creative writing, and travel solo.

  • POSITION: Side Sleeper
  • TEMPERATURE: Hot Sleeper
  • CHRONOTYPE: Bear

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