Nighttime Device Use Associated With Insomnia in Young Adults

Person holding pillow over their face.
In young adults, the use of electronic devices was found to contribute to insomnia symptoms more than mood disturbance, age, and biological sex.

Previous studies have linked mobile phone use to insomnia and depression.1 A new study, published in Sleep Health, explores the association between device use and insomnia in young adults.

Not only did the study find that using a “back-lit device” for 1 to 2 hours before bedtime was associated with insomnia symptoms. It also uncovered that device use contributed to insomnia above and beyond mood disturbance, age, and biological sex.

About 75% of young adults report that using electronic devices before bedtime negatively affects their sleep. Yet, they continue to sleep with their phone beside their bed at night. Not only do devices disturb sleep, but 66% of young adults also report devices to be associated with psychological distress.

The study recruited Canadian university students aged 18 to 35 years. Researchers asked participants several questions related to device use, including frequency and duration of use, especially at night.

The study utilized the Insomnia Severity Index (ISI), which assesses insomnia symptoms, and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), which measures anxiety and depression symptoms. Based on those scores, participants were placed into “insomnia symptoms” (8 to 28 on ISI) or “no insomnia” (0 to 7 on ISI) groups.

Participants who scored between 0 and 7 on HADS were placed in a “no anxiety/depression” group; participants who scored between 8 and 10 were placed in a “subclinical anxiety”/“subclinical depression” group; and those that scored between 11 and 21 fell into the “anxiety symptoms”/“depressive symptoms” category.

A total of 3699 individuals completed the survey, while 2390 were ultimately included.

The mean age of the group was 22.17 (range=18-35). Most (73.4%) were female, and 41% said they started experiencing sleep problems before entering university. Almost all (98.9%) participants used a smartphone and/or computer or laptop (98.3%). More than half (58.9%) said that they used their devices before bed every night.

A total of 55.4% of the participants had some degree of insomnia. Of the participants, 44.6% scored in the no insomnia range; 33.4% fell in the mild range; 18.9% fell in the moderate range, and 3% were in the severe insomnia range.

A low percentage (10.6%) scored as having subclinical or depression symptoms, while 40.4% reported anxiety symptoms.

“Given that sleep difficulties tend to worsen over time, it is important to educate [young adults] about the likelihood for harm and establish interventions that are focused on altering device use at night,” the researchers concluded. Suggestions include educating students on safe use, such as stopping device use one hour before bed.


Tamura H, Nishida T, Tsuji A, Sakakibara H. Association between excessive use of mobile phone and insomnia and depression among Japanese adolescents [published June 29, 2017]. Int J Environ Res Public Health. doi: 10.3390/ijerph14070701

Walsh NA, Rodriguez N, Repa LM, King E, Garland SN. Associations between device use before bed, mood disturbance, and insomnia symptoms in young adults [published July 14, 2020]. Sleep Health. doi: 10.1016/j.sleh.2020.04.004