A recent study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders examined the impact of screen use before sleep on emotional problems among adolescents. The researchers focused on two crucial factors: chronotype (the timing of one’s biological clock) and social jetlag (the misalignment between biological and social rhythms).
In today’s society, electronic devices are an integral part of adolescents’ lives, but their excessive use has been linked to various negative outcomes, including cardiovascular issues, reduced cognitive performance, and increased psychological problems. The negative effects are particularly pronounced when screen time occurs closer to bedtime.
The study aimed to understand the connection between screen use before sleep, emotional problems, and sleep patterns in adolescents. Previous research suggested that exposure to blue light emitted by electronic devices could disrupt circadian rhythms, leading to delayed sleep and a late chronotype. Adolescents with a late chronotype, in turn, face challenges when their school schedule requires them to wake up early. This misalignment of their biological and social clocks results in social jetlag, which may contribute to emotional difficulties.
The researchers collected data from two independent surveys conducted among Chinese high school students, involving a total of 2,685 and 1,368 adolescents, respectively. Participants reported their screen use before sleep, chronotype, social jetlag, and emotional problems using questionnaires. Serial mediation analyses were performed to investigate the relationships among these variables.
The study’s findings revealed that adolescents who used screens before sleep tended to have a later chronotype and experienced greater social jetlag. These factors put them at a higher risk of emotional problems. Disruption of circadian rhythms emerged as a crucial mechanism linking screen exposure to psychopathology.
Furthermore, adolescents with later chronotypes faced challenges in coping with early social schedules, leading to a mismatch between their biological and social clocks. This misalignment further contributed to social jetlag and its association with emotional difficulties.
It is important to note that the study’s cross-sectional design does not allow for establishing causal links, and self-reported data may be subject to bias. For more definitive conclusions, future studies using objective measures like polysomnography and dim light melatonin onset (DLMO) are needed to replicate these findings.
Despite these limitations, the study underscores the significance of encouraging healthier screen habits among teenagers. Being mindful of their natural sleep patterns can help when creating intervention strategies to support their emotional well-being.
“The present study contributed to the existing literature by examining the mediating effect of chronotype and social jetlag in the relationship between screen use before sleep and emotional problems from a circadian rhythm perspective among two large samples of Chinese high school adolescents,” the researchers concluded.
“More specifically, screen use before sleep was associated with later chronotype and then greater social jetlag, which was further related to higher levels of emotional problems. The findings suggested that healthy media use habits should be developed, and intervention strategies targeting circadian characteristics should be designated to promote emotional health in the adolescent population.”
The study, “Screen use before sleep and emotional problems among adolescents: Preliminary evidence of mediating effect of chronotype and social jetlag“, was authored by Lei Yue, Naixue Cui, Li Jiang, and Naisong Cui.