Help your teenager be ‘smart’ about cell phone use at night

It is very hard to find a teenager who does not have a smart phone or a cell phone. There clearly are many benefits to having a personal phone. It connects teenagers to their parents and peers, they can use it to play music, watch videos, read books and to surf the Web.

While these are important activities that enrich a teenager’s life experience, there can also be unintended consequences that affect sleep duration and quality with a very significant impact on daytime functioning and health.

Many teenagers already struggle to find enough time to meet the demands of school, extra-curricular activities and family and friends. One strategy to fit more activities into the day is to cut down on sleep time. As a result, many teenagers do not get the amount of sleep that allows them to function at their best.

Cell phone use further chips away at sleep time and also can have effects on a teenager’s biological clock by exposing the brain to light during a sensitive period.

It is likely that you have noticed the effects of sleep deprivation in your teenager as sleep supports many critical functions:

  • It recharges our brain and helps us learn better and think more clearly.
  • It stabilizes our mood and helps us keep a positive outlook on life.
  • It recharges our energy stores and improves physical strength.
  • It prevents us from falling asleep in school, at work or while driving a car.

Here are some suggestions for healthy cell phone habits that are worth considering:

  • Parents should try to be good role models and lead by example.
  • Changing a teenager’s habits is never easy. Try to do this in a collaborative fashion and provide lots of positive feedback.
  • Turn off the phone before going to bed. Plug it into charger outside bedroom.
  • Avoid looking at the screen to browse the web or watch videos an hour before going to sleep.
  • Don’t take the phone to bed  and leave it on to check text messages.

Holger Link, M.D., M.R.C.P.
Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics
Division of Pulmonary Medicine
OHSU Doernbecher Pediatric Sleep Disorders Clinic