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Cell Phones and Sleep: Why Parents Should Remove Electronics from the Bedroom

By: Carrie E. Powell, PhD

Information on this page should be utilized as a guide, not medical advice. If you feel you need to speak with someone regarding behavioral therapy or counseling, please contact Connections to make an appointment.

 

Most teenagers (at least 70 percent) have access to their own cell phone, which is usually in contrast to what their parents experienced during adolescence. Approximately half of those teenagers sleep with their cell phone in their room, and many of them report using their phones at some point during the night. A portion of teenagers with cell phones report only using their phone for the alarm clock function or “background music” while they sleep; however, many of those teenagers still admit to checking their phone if they happen to wake up during the night.

Remember the “good old days” when kids had a landline, and if you were lucky, the phone in the kitchen had a cord that could stretch far enough to allow you to obtain some privacy by talking in the next room? And remember what happened when someone called too late at night? Back then, one of the parents in the home would just answer with “No,” and hang up. Some kids that were more privileged might have their own separate landline in their bedroom, but in my world, that was rare. There was no texting, no Twitter, no Facebook, no Instagram, no Snapchat, no Tinder, no Uber and no Google. But we survived.

Research on cell phone use with adolescents has not only suggested higher rates of anxiety and depression among heavy cell phone users, but has specifically indicated that teenagers who keep their phones inside their room overnight are more likely to experience such distress and feel more attached (or addicted) to their phone. Why is this happening? Consider this: social pressures associated with cell phone use differ from those we experienced when landlines were the only option. If someone called your “home phone” and you did not answer, they could leave a message. You may then return their call when you returned home. But with cell phones, the societal expectation is that you must reply as soon as humanly possible. We live in a fast food, instant response culture that creates a sense of entitlement. We no longer know how to wait. And the less exposed one is to waiting, the more entitled and demanding they become. For teenagers especially, highly demanding peers build more pressure to respond and conform. As the pressure builds, so do rates of anxiety and depression in teens. This does not apply to one crowd or clique because the social pressure to be available is rampant across most peer groups.

What we have created is a culture of adolescents who are constantly “on call” – 24/7 – in case their friends want or need them. They have similar feelings of hypervigilance as an ER doctor or a new mother with a restless baby. If the phone makes a buzz, blip or bing, they are expected to be responsive. And during the night, there is absolutely no reason they need to be contacting their peers.

Adolescents need to sleep. They, like adults, need to have time away from the social pressure they experience throughout the day. Here is what I recommend parents do: Take the phone at night, and do not give it back until the morning. Go to the local store and buy an old-school alarm clock to eliminate that excuse. Music disrupts sleep anyway, so put a box fan in the room if your child needs background noise to sleep.

Most importantly, if your teenager goes into hysteria at the thought of being away from their phone overnight, they are already too attached to it. Most will say they never even look at it. If that is true, they should not care when the phone is removed during the night. And remember, it never hurt anyone to have to wait for something they really want!

Information on this page should be utilized as a guide, not medical advice. If you feel you need to speak with someone regarding behavioral therapy or counseling, please contact Connections to make an appointment.