Sleep Disorders

08 December 2018

Parents blame smartphones, tablets for teens' sleep troubles

A poll suggests that sleep problems are common among teens, and parents believe late-night use of electronics is a main contributor.

Many American teens are sleep-deprived, and parents blame their attachment to electronics, new survey results show.

Researchers at the University of Michigan conducted a national poll of more than 1 000 parents with at least one child between 13 and 18 years old.

Tossing and turning

"This poll suggests that sleep problems are common among teens and parents believe late-night use of electronics is a main contributor," said poll co-director Sarah Clark.

"Teens' hectic schedules and homework load, as well as anxiety about school performance and peer relationships, also are seen by parents as contributing to sleep problems," she said in a university news release.

Forty-three percent of the parents said their teen had trouble falling asleep or tossed and turned during the night.

And 56% of these parents said that electronics, particularly cellphones and social media, were robbing their teenagers of sleep, the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health showed.

Less often, parents blamed their child's busy schedule. More than 40% of the parents surveyed suggested their teens' homework load and activities disrupted their sleep schedule. Meanwhile, 31% of parents said worries about school affected their child's ability to sleep, and 23% said their teen's concerns about their social life kept them up at night.

In addition, 10% of parents reported that a health condition or medication had a negative effect on their child's sleep habits.

Long-lasting health effects

Many parents reported trying to encourage better sleep. More than half said they suggest limiting caffeine intake in the evening or tell their teen to turn off their phones and other electronic devices at bedtime. More than 40% recommend a snack before bed, 36% tried natural sleep remedies like melatonin, and 28% said their teen has tried a sleep aid.

But only four in 10 parents with sleep-deprived teens said they talked to a doctor about it.

Those who did bring up the matter with a doctor said they were generally advised to turn off electronics and phones at bedtime, stick to a regular sleep schedule and limit caffeine. Some physicians also suggested trying a natural sleep remedy.

"Parents whose teens continue to have frequent sleep problems… may want to talk with a healthcare provider, particularly when considering which type of medication to try," Clark said. "Inadequate or disrupted sleep can have long-lasting health effects that go beyond moodiness and irritability for teens."

These include difficulty concentrating in school and an increased risk of auto accidents, Clark said. "Inadequate sleep has also been linked to health problems ranging from obesity to depression," she added.

Image credit: iStock


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Sleep disorders expert

Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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