Investigation into pre-bedtime technology use to improve adolescent sleep

Author: Meg Pillion

Pillion, Meg, 2023 Investigation into pre-bedtime technology use to improve adolescent sleep, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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Many public health recommendations suggest that technology devices should not be used in the 1-hour before bed. However, it is no secret that the use of technology is ubiquitous in the lives of modern-day adolescents, where electronic media use is occurring not only before getting into bed, but also while in bed before attempting to sleep. Previous research has shown that curtailing evening technology use for even just 1-hour per school night, is difficult for adolescents to achieve - despite the positive effects that reducing technology use may have on their sleep. Therefore, this PhD sought to explore factors that could help adolescents reduce their pre-sleep technology use for just 1-hour on school nights.

In the first study, it was found that certain devices and apps were associated with positive or negative sleep outcomes. Specifically, phones, laptops, gaming consoles, and YouTube were associated with less sleep on school nights, while watching TV was associated with more sleep. In the second study, parent-set technology rules were found to be a protective factor for adolescent sleep, where even just having a rule was linked to earlier bedtimes. However, adolescents’ compliance to their parent-set technology rules mattered when it came to obtaining more total sleep time (TST) on school nights. In addition, adolescents who experienced higher levels of Fear of Missing Out (FoMO) and/or Bedtime Procrastination (BtP) were more likely to report negative sleep outcomes compared to those who reported lower levels of these traits.

The final study involved a 1-week intervention where phone, YouTube, and TikTok use were instructed to be ceased 1-hour earlier on school nights. To assist adolescents with this, a face-to-face motivational session was delivered, where suggestions to students were made for both technology and non-technology activities to “switch” to during this 1-hour (based on the findings of Study 1). In addition, parents were asked to support their adolescents with the intervention (based on the findings of STUDY 2). Results indicated that this appeared to be a feasible intervention for adolescents, with adolescents reporting that they stopped using their phones ~58 minutes earlier during the intervention week. However, no significant changes in sleep outcomes were observed (increase of ~12 minutes of TST at post intervention approached significance p =.08). Despite these promising outcomes, it was observed that uptake and adherence remain to be barriers to adolescents completing technology restriction interventions. The results of this thesis present an intricate account of links between adolescent evening technology use and sleep, emphasising the major role parent-set technology rules play in protecting adolescent sleep, and provide additional evidence for the possible benefits of interventions that target evening technology use.

Keywords: sleep, adolescent sleep, sleep and technology, technology and sleep intervention, teenag* sleep

Subject: Psychology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2023
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Daniel King