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Adolescents' screen time, sleep and mental health: literature review

Systematic review summarising the published experimental and longitudinal evidence on adolescent screen time, sleep and mental health.


Research Question 4: To what extent might girls' and boys' differential mobile device screen time, and its relationship with sleep, contribute to inequalities in mental health and wellbeing by gender?

Based on the search we ran in May 2019, we found no reports that met the inclusion criteria for answering RQ4. In August 2019 a new eligible study by Viner et al (33) was published, which we did not include in our evidence synthesis because it became available after we had completed our literature search. We provide a short summary of findings below.

In a longitudinal study of 12,866 young people in England, Viner et al (33) found that using social media multiple times daily when aged 13-15 predicted lower life satisfaction, lower happiness, and higher anxiety among girls 1- to 2-years later but not among boys. Furthermore, sleeping less than 8 hours per night, not being physically active most days, and experiencing cyberbullying play a detrimental role in the association between social media use and lower wellbeing in girls only. Therefore, the authors concluded that:

"Mental health harms related to very frequent social media use in girls might be due to a combination of exposure to cyberbullying or displacement of sleep or physical activity, whereas other mechanisms appear to be operative in boys. Interventions to promote mental health should include efforts to prevent or increase resilience to cyberbullying and ensure adequate sleep and physical activity in young people." (33, p. 685)

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