Evidence Shows Poor Sleep is Linked to High Screen Time in Adults


Evidence has suggested a relationship between screen time and poor sleep among youth, however, little evidence has been provided for adults.

Evidence Shows Poor Sleep is Linked to High Screen Time in Adults

Jean-Philippe Chaput, PhD

Jean-Philippe Chaput, Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, along with a team of investigators evaluated the relationship between discretionary screen time (DST) and sleep patterns. It’s been established that children, adolescents and adults who spend excessive time using screens also have a tendency to sleep for short durations.

Short-duration sleepers are likely engaging in more recreational screen time, which could lead to a perpetuating cycle of excessive screen use and inadequate sleep. Additionally, investigators acknowledged that a majority of adult sleep research has featured sleep duration as the main characteristic while disregarding the important roles of sleep quality, timing and daytime sleepiness.

While there’s evidence of a suggested bidirectional relationship between screen time and poor sleep among youth, little evidence has been provided for adults.

“The present study is the largest of its kind to examine this knowledge gap and aims to provide critical information that can help to inform public health initiatives and future interventions,” investigators wrote.

Previous research has demonstrated that moderate levels of discretionary screen time outside of work and healthy sleep are linked to better health in adults. However, his study focuses on the impact that these practices have on one another.

Identifying Adult Sleep and Screen Habits

The longitudinal analysis included 31,361 individuals from the UK Biobank study who had self-reported sleep patterns across 5 sleep health characteristics and 2 repeated measurements of discretionary screen time such as watching TV and recreational computer use. The 7 year follow-up period in which data were reported was 2012-2018.

Discretionary screen time was categorized based on individuals’ daily screen use.

  • Low: less than 3 hours
  • Medium: 3-4 hours
  • High: more than 4 hours

The sleep pattern composite score incorporated adequate sleep duration (7-8 hours a day), never or rare insomnia, never or rare snoring, infrequent daytime sleepiness, and morning chronotype. Individuals were categorized into 3 groups based on how many healthy sleep characteristics applied to them.

  • Poor: 0-1 characteristic
  • Intermediate: 2-3 characteristics
  • Healthy: 4 or more characteristics

Following stratification, investigators applied multiple logistic regression analyses with adjustments for possible confounders.

The Relationship Between Sleep and Screen Time

The findings demonstrated that high discretionary screen time coincided with poor sleep patterns. Evidence was consistent throughout the 7 year period, investigators noted.

When compared to individuals who started the study with healthy sleep patterns, those with poor or intermediate sleep patterns were more likely to engage in high discretionary screen time at follow-up. This correlation was also observed when looking from the perspective of discretionary screen time as the medium and high DST groups appeared to be more prone to poor sleep as opposed to the low DST group.

“This study provides the first set of evidence of a bidirectional relationship between DST and sleep in adults,” investigators concluded. “These findings support interventions that concurrently target DST and sleep to enhance improvements in both health behaviors. Future studies using device-based measures of sleep duration and quality are necessary to replicate these findings and to get a more in-depth understanding of the underlying mechanisms that explain these associations.”

The study, “Bidirectional associations of sleep and discretionary screen time in adults: Longitudinal analysis of the UK biobank” was published in the Journal of Sleep Research.

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