Study Shows Smartphones and Video Games Affect Teens Sleep, Making Them Sadder

Much has been said about the effects of smartphones and video games among children. It can’t be good to be glued to electronic devices all the time, and it’s been known that it makes them more sad. But new evidence is showing the reason they are sadder is because of how the usage affects their sleep.

The Study

Teenagers have grown up with these devices; they don’t know another world. And when we see groups of them together, they’re often not talking to each other. They’re on their phones playing a game or spending time on social media.

Because they’re more focused on being on their device than conversing with their peers, it’s been thought that the lack of social interaction is hurting them. But instead it seems like it may be the lack of sleep that they’re getting.

Stony Brook University researchers studied data from a survey of approximately 3,000 teens from 2014 to 2017. It asked them how much time they spent on the different activities involving screens – watching TV, playing games, on social media, and using the Internet. Other questions dealt with their sleep habits and if they displayed the typical symptoms of depression. It’s noted that depressive symptoms were examined, not actual depression.

It was learned that the more screen time, no matter what type was being used, it showed a greater risk of depression. It showed the reason they were depressed was because they were also reporting experiencing insomnia or not getting enough sleep. The more time that was spent on screens, the less they were sleeping, and the more they were feeling depressed.


Higher rates of depressive symptoms among teens may be partially explained through the ubiquitous use of screen-based activities, which can interfere with high-quality restorative sleep,” said Xian Stella Li, the study author and a postdoctoral researcher at Stony Brook, in a statement.

The results of the study were presented at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC’s annual conference, SLEEP 2018.

Examining the Data

There were differences shown, though, with the types of screen time that teens were using. Messaging with friends wasn’t connected as much to feelings of depression than gaming was.

That makes sense, as when you’re spending a lot of time playing a video game, it’s more isolating. If you’re spending time conversing with friends while on your device, at least you’re not alone. Sleep itself was only connected to about thirty-five percent of the depression symptoms where time was spent gaming.

These findings aren’t a surprise, not getting enough sleep can affect one’s health mentally and physically, but the connection between depression symptoms and time spent on screens has been more difficult to reach.


While some researchers have believed that too much time on screens kept people isolated and lonely, others felt it was more physical and that the bright screens affected brains in much the same way as addictive drugs. Yet others suggest a scenario of maybe the chicken happening first instead of the egg. Perhaps teens were spending time on screens because they were already experiencing depression symptoms.

This research doesn’t necessarily settle that argument, but it does strengthen the idea that there is a definite relationship between the three factors: screen time, depression symptoms, and sleep. And it’s interesting to note that research has also suggested that only 10 percent of teens get the recommended eight to ten hours of sleep each night.

Not Just Teens

Perhaps we can also attach this study to adults as well as teens. I make no secret of the fact that my sleep habits are terrible. I’ve fallen asleep three times while working tonight. This means I’ll only get a few hours of good restorative sleep tonight, meaning it will create more of a sleep situation for me tomorrow. I wouldn’t say I’m experiencing depression symptoms, but it definitely affects my physical and mental health.

That said, I’m on my screen all day long. I’m on my iPad from the time I get up until the time I go to bed. When I’m not on my iPad, I’m spending time watching TV. I’m always experiencing screen time. So it would stand to reason that perhaps that’s what’s affecting my bad sleep habits.

What connection have you noticed between your own sleep habits and your screen time? Do you notice depression symptoms as well? How do you feel smartphones and video games are affecting the youth? Sound off and let us know what you think below in the comments. Meanwhile, I think I’ll go get some sleep.

Laura Tucker
Laura Tucker

Laura has spent nearly 20 years writing news, reviews, and op-eds, with more than 10 of those years as an editor as well. She has exclusively used Apple products for the past three decades. In addition to writing and editing at MTE, she also runs the site's sponsored review program.

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