Health and Wellness

40% of college students are 'addicted' to their smartphones, and it could be affecting their sleep: study

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Two teenagers watch a chat with friends on their smartphone
Ute Grabowsky | Photothek | Getty Images

A peer-reviewed study published Tuesday in Frontiers in Psychiatry found that 40% of college students are addicted to their smartphones — and have poorer sleep quality.

In 2019, researchers at King's College London polled 1,043 students there aged 18 to 30 about their smartphone use, including average amount of use per day and timing. They then compared it with the average number of hours the respondents reported sleeping on weeknights as well as the overall quality of their sleep.

The study found that 38.9% of the students were addicted to their smartphones. Of those with an addiction, 68.7% had poor sleep quality, compared to 57.1% of those who did not have an addiction.

Researchers found students who used their phone several hours during activities with family or friends and after midnight were most likely to be at high risk of becoming addicted.

What's more, the study found that of those who stopped using their device an hour before bed were less likely to be addicted compared to those who stopped less than 30 minutes prior to bedtime.

However, according to the study, "smartphone addiction was associated with poor sleep, independent of duration of usage, indicating that length of time should not be used as a proxy for harmful usage."

Students who used a smartphone for more than five hours a day, who could not control how long they spent on their phone, who felt distressed when they could not access their phone and who missed life activities as a result were considered addicted.

Another study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in June reported similar findings with the relationship between smartphone overuse and sleep in younger children. The study concluded that excessive smartphone use was related to shorter total sleep time and quality of sleep.

But some experts take issue with the term "smartphone addiction." Smartphone addiction is not a condition recognized by any global health body and there is no formal clinical diagnosis, according to Bob Patton, lecturer in Clinical Psychology at the University of Surrey, who studies addictive behaviors.

Additionally, it's important to note the results of the study can't be applied to the general population because the study only included students and young adults.

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