Technology — 26 June 2012

Young people who heavily use cell phones and computers also complain more about sleep disturbances, stress and other mental health problems, according to researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

“Public health advice should therefore include information on the healthy use of this technology,” says researcher Sara Thomée from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg.

Doctoral student Thomée and her research team conducted four separate studies aimed at investigating the correlation between computers and cell phones, and their impact on the mental health of young adults.

Researchers gave questionnaires to 4,100 young adults (ages 20-24) and interviewed 32 heavy users of information and communication technology (ICT).

The findings reveal that extreme use of cell phones and computers may be linked to stress, sleep disorders and depressive symptoms. The researchers could not determine causation, so it may be that people with depression or sleep problems are simply more likely to reach out to others using mobile technology.

“We looked at the effects both quantitatively and qualitatively and followed up the volunteers a year on,” explains Thomée, who will present the results in her upcoming thesis.

“The conclusion is that intensive use of ICT can have an impact on mental health among young adults.”

The research reveals, for example, that heavy cell phone use is correlated with an increase in sleeping difficulties in men and an increase in depressive symptoms in both men and women.

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

Heavy computer use with no breaks also increases the risk of stress, sleeping problems and depressive symptoms in women, whereas men tend to develop more sleeping problems.

“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,” says Thomée.

A combination of both heavy computer use and heavy cell phone use strengthened the link. The researchers believe that public health ads should advise young people on how to use ICT in a healthy way.

“This means taking breaks, taking time to recover after intensive use, and putting limits on your availability,” Thomée explains.

As first appeared in Psych Central


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