Disruption of adolescents' circadian clock: The vicious circle of media use, exposure to light at night, sleep loss and risk behaviors

J Physiol Paris. 2016 Nov;110(4 Pt B):467-479. doi: 10.1016/j.jphysparis.2017.05.001. Epub 2017 May 12.


Although sleep is a key element in adolescent development, teens are spending increasing amounts of time online with health risks related to excessive use of electronic media (computers, smartphones, tablets, consoles…) negatively associated with daytime functioning and sleep outcomes. Adolescent sleep becomes irregular, shortened and delayed in relation with later sleep onset and early waking time due to early school starting times on weekdays which results in rhythm desynchronization and sleep loss. In addition, exposure of adolescents to the numerous electronic devices prior to bedtime has become a great concern because LEDs emit much more blue light than white incandescent bulbs and compact fluorescent bulbs and have therefore a greater impact on the biological clock. A large number of adolescents move to evening chronotype and experience a misalignment between biological and social rhythms which, added to sleep loss, results in e.g. fatigue, daytime sleepiness, behavioral problems and poor academic achievement. This paper on adolescent circadian disruption will review the sensitivity of adolescents to light including LEDs with the effects on the circadian system, the crosstalk between the clock and the pineal gland, the role of melatonin, and the behavior of some adolescents(media use, alcohol consumption, binge drinking, smoking habits, stimulant use…). Lastly, some practical recommendations and perspectives are put forward. The permanent social jet lag resulting in clock misalignment experienced by a number of adolescents should be considered as a matter of public health.

Keywords: Adolescent sleep; Alcohol; Binge drinking; Cellular phone; Chronotype; Clock disruption; Electronic media use; Fatigue; Internet use; LEDs; Light at night; Melatonin; Rhythm desynchronization; Sleepiness; Smoking; Substance abuse.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / physiology
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Jet Lag Syndrome / metabolism*
  • Lighting / adverse effects*
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Sleep Deprivation / physiopathology
  • Sleep Deprivation / psychology*
  • Smartphone / trends
  • Social Media* / trends
  • Time Factors