Young adults addicted to smartphones ‘losing sleep and neglecting areas of life’

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More than a third of young adults are struggling with smartphone addiction, a study has found – causing them to neglect other areas of their life.

Research by King’s College London has found that around 39 per cent of people aged 18-30 reported symptoms such as losing control over how long they spend on their device and distress when they cannot access it.

And, despite moves to reduce the effect of screen time on sleep by phone manufacturers in recent years, experts fear that addiction could also be having a negative impact on shuteye.

The research found that more than two-thirds (69 per cent) of those showing signs of phone addiction reported poor sleep regardless of the time spent looking at their phone.

However, more than half of those asked (57 per cent) of those adjudged to not have a smartphone addiction said they too had suffered from poor sleep.

Smartphone addiction is not formally recognised as a clinical diagnosis but is the subject of research using a validated tool known as the smartphone addiction scale, which was used as part of the study.

According to the research, around a quarter of those who showed signs of addiction used their phone for three hours a day and a further 18.5 per cent said they used their device for more than five hours each day.

Samantha Sohn, lead author at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience (IoPPN), said: “Smartphones are increasingly becoming indispensable parts of our daily lives, and this study is an important step in looking at their impact in terms of dysfunctional use and on sleep in a UK population.”

Dr Ben Carter, senior lecturer at IoPPN, said: “Our study provides further support to the growing body of evidence that smartphone ‘addiction’ has a negative impact on sleep.

“However, the association is still significant even after adjusting for daily screen time use.

“Although daily length of smartphone use is an exposure of poor sleep, it is not the only determining factor and our findings demonstrate a validated smartphone addiction instrument offers greater explanation.

“It also shows that the impact of sleep quality and smartphone addiction is down to more than how long we are using our phones for.

“This could help clinicians when treating children and adults with sleeping difficulties about how they identify problematic usage.”

The study used survey responses from 1,043 people and matched their replies to the addiction scale tool, finding that 406 met the criteria for smartphone addiction.

In recent years, many major smartphone manufacturers have introduced features to their devices designed to reduce the impact of screen time on sleep, as well as tools that enable users to limit the amount of time they spend on their devices each day.

Dr Nicola Kalk, visiting clinical lecturer at IoPPN and addiction psychiatrist at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, argued that the study shows screen time is not the main indicator of harmful phone use.

She said: “This study makes clear that it is features of behavioural addiction rather than exposure time that is predictive of smartphone-associated harm.

“It is particularly interesting that many respondents reported trying strategies to limit their smartphone use, and those who endorsed features of addiction had tried multiple strategies.”