Liberate Yourself from Your Phone

Mobile phone use may contribute to sleeping problems and depression

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A mobile phone can feel so important to your life that it's an extension of your body. But taking a break from your phone may help your mental health.

Four studies out of Sweden found that too much cell phone use can increase the risk of stress, sleeping disorders and depression.

"Reduce your time on your mobile phone. Create phone/computer breaks."

Sara Thomée, a doctoral student at the University of Gothenburg's Sahlgrenska Academy in Sweden, found evidence to link mobile phone use and a range of mental health conditions in four studies she conducted.

The four studies included questionnaires for 4,100 people between the ages of 20 and 24, as well as 32 interviews with people who use information and communication technologies very heavily. Thomée followed up with these participants at a one year follow-up to gather information on their mental, behavioral and sleep health.

The results showed higher rates of sleeping issues and depression among heavy users of mobile phones. One contributing factor to the higher levels of depression related to the feeling of being always on-call for anyone.

Being a heavy user was defined as sending or receiving at least 11 phone calls or 11 text messages a day, or sending/receiving 6 to 10 phone calls and 6 to 10 text messages a day. Approximately 22 to 24 percent of the study participants fell into this category.

"Those who find the constant accessibility via mobile phones to be stressful are most likely to report mental symptoms," says Thomée.

In fact, those who reported it was "rather" or "very" stressful were more than twice as likely to report symptoms of depression during one year later at a follow-up.

But even those who did not report feeling stressed but simply used their phones a great deal had a higher likelihood of some mental health problems.

Men experienced more sleeping problems, and both men and women had higher rates of depression symptoms if they were heavy users of mobile phones.

The male heavy users had an 80 percent greater risk of reporting sleep disturbances at a one-year follow-up, and women who were heavy users reported a 50 percent increase in depression symptoms at the follow-up.

Those using the computer heavily are also at risk for sleeping problems or depression symptoms - especially if they use the computer late at night.

"Regularly using a computer late at night is associated not only with sleep disorders but also with stress and depressive symptoms in both men and women," Thomée said. A high amount of late-night computer use was defined as "having lost sleep because of sitting late at night 'a few times per week' or 'almost every day'."

Among these late night users, men were twice as likely to have trouble sleeping and 1.8 times as likely to feel more stress at the one-year follow-up. Women were 1.5 times as likely to have sleeping problems and 1.7 times as likely to feel stressed.

Interestingly,  heavy late-night computer users were not linked to an increase in depression symptoms for men or women. While the participants classified as using a computer late at night a moderate amount ("a few times a month") was linked to a 1.9 times greater risk for depression symptoms in women.

So what's the solution? If you feel stressed or depressed, or you're having trouble sleeping, take a look at your mobile phone use and your computer use at night. Evaluate whether you should consider making changes.

"This means taking breaks, taking time to recover after intensive use, and putting limits on your availability," Thomée said.

Thomée's four studies comprised her dissertation, which has not been published in a medical journal but has been successfully defended at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg. The research received financial support from the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research. No conflicts of interest were noted.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 13, 2012
Last Updated:
June 13, 2012