SCIENCE
09/22/2015 12:53 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2015

Why Parents Should Ban Smartphones From Their Kids' Bedrooms

A new study finds that many teens are waking up in the middle of the night to check social media.
Yuanting via Getty Images

Should parents ban smartphones from their kids' rooms at night? It's probably a good idea, according to new research.

Why? Because more than 20 percent of teenagers say they "almost always" wake up during the night to check or post on social media, a habit that disrupts their sleep, increases fatigue at school and may harm their sense of well-being. 

"It seems [very] important to discourage adolescents from using social media during the night," Dr. Kimberly Horton, a research assistant at Cardiff University in the U.K. and one of the study's authors, said in a written statement. "No amount of effort to develop regular bedtimes or to lengthen the time in bed would seem to be able to compensate for the disruption that this can cause."

For the study, researchers from the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research Data asked more than 800 12- to 15-year-olds about their sleep habits -- including how often they woke up at night to use social media. Researchers also asked about the teens' levels of energy and well-being.

What did the researchers find? Waking up at night to use social networking platforms like Snapchat and Instagram was surprisingly common. Twenty-two percent of 12- and 13-year-olds and 23 percent of 14- and 15-year-olds said they "almost always" did so. More than a third said they did at least once a week.

This behavior seems to take a real toll. More than half of the heavier nighttime social media users said they usually go to school feeling tired. 

"In turn, we find a significant association between feeling tired when they go to school and their overall levels of subjective well-being," Dr. Chris Taylor, a researcher at Cardiff and one of the study's authors, added in an email to The Huffington Post. 

For some teens, this combination could contribute to mental health issues. Heavy social media use and poor sleep have both been found to take a toll on young peoples' mental health, so the combination could be even more problematic.

So what's the solution? Pushing back school start times probably isn't the answer, as the study's authors argue that more time to sleep in the morning doesn't compensate for sleep disruptions. Structured morning routines can be helpful for mediating the effects of poor sleep, the researchers explain, so disrupting those routines with later school start times may not be beneficial.

Instead, the study suggests that it may be more effective to discourage teens from using technology at night. One way to do it? Keeping digital devices out of the bedroom so that a good night's sleep won't be ruined by the lure of Twitter.

"The benefits of having a regular bedtime, a reasonable bedtime, and a sensible amount of time in bed entirely are expunged if adolescents are waking up to use social media," Horton said. 

The bottom line: Their FOMO can wait until the morning. 

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