June 13, 2018
1 min read

Screen activity may cause insomnia, depression in teens

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Lauren Hale
Lauren Hale

Teens’ depressive symptoms were associated with screen-based activities, including social messaging and web surfing, and were brought about by sleep deprivation and insomnia, according to research presented at SLEEP 2018 in Baltimore.

“We are excited about our findings because they merge three important areas of adolescent research: screen time, sleep disturbances and depressive symptoms,” Lauren Hale, PhD, professor of family, population and preventive medicine at Stony Brook University, told Infectious Diseases in Children. “While this is only an observational study and we are not able show causality, it does show that above and beyond depressive symptoms at age 9, higher daily screen time and sleep disturbances are associated with more depressive symptoms at age 15.”

Hale and colleagues used the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study teen survey to gather data from 3,134 adolescents (mean age, 15.63 years; 51% boys). Insomnia symptoms, including problems falling asleep and staying asleep, habitual weeknight sleep duration and depressive symptoms were included in survey questions.

In the survey, teens also reported on screen-based activities like social messaging, web surfing, watching TV and movies, and gaming.

In their analysis, the researchers found an association between greater amounts of screen activity and more insomnia symptoms and shorter sleep duration, which in turn were associated with greater depressive symptoms.

“For gaming, insomnia symptoms and sleep duration each partially mediated the positive association of gaming and depressive symptoms, attenuating the total effect of gaming on depressive symptoms by more than 35%,” the researchers wrote.

There was a significantly smaller association of social messaging with depressive symptoms compared with gaming and depressive symptoms.

“Importantly, for three of our measures of screen time (social messaging, TV/movies and web surfing), the association between screen time and depressive symptoms was fully explained by increased insomnia symptoms and shorter sleep duration,” Hale said. “This suggests that interventions targeted to improve sleep may help mitigate the association between screen time and depressive symptoms,” she added.

“More than two-thirds of teens are not getting the sleep they need, so this is further support for the need for efforts to improve adolescent sleep,” she added. by Bruce Thiel


Li XS, et al. Abstract 803. Presented at: SLEEP; June 2-6, 2018; Baltimore.

Disclosure: Hale reports no relevant financial disclosures.