Nighttime smartphone use, sleep quality, and mental health: investigating a complex relationship

Sleep. 2023 Dec 11;46(12):zsad256. doi: 10.1093/sleep/zsad256.


Study objectives: This study investigated the complex relationship between nighttime smartphone use, sleep, and mental health among adult populations in Denmark.

Methods: Data from three interconnected samples (aged 16-89 years) from the SmartSleep Study included 5798 individuals with survey and register data; 4239 individuals also provided high-resolution smartphone tracking data. Logistic regression models and causal discovery algorithms, which suggest possible causal pathways consistent with the underlying data structure, were used to infer the relationship between self-reported and tracked nighttime smartphone use, self-reported sleep quality, mental health indicators, and register-based psychotropic medication use.

Results: Frequent self-reported nighttime smartphone use was associated with high perceived stress (OR: 2.24, 95% CI = 1.42 to 3.55) and severe depressive symptoms (OR: 2.96, 95% CI = 2.04 to 4.28). We found no clear associations between tracked nighttime smartphone use and mental health outcomes, except for the cluster that used their smartphones repeatedly during the sleep period, which was associated with severe depressive symptoms (OR = 1.69, 95% CI = 1.24 to 2.31). Poor sleep quality (vs. good sleep quality) was associated with high perceived stress (OR = 5.07, 95% CI = 3.72 to 6.90), severe depressive symptoms (OR = 9.67, 95% CI = 7.09 to 13.19), and psychotropic medication use (OR = 2.13, 95% CI = 1.36 to 3.35). The causal discovery models suggest that nighttime smartphone use affects mental health through both problematic smartphone use and poor sleep quality.

Conclusion: The complex relationship between nighttime smartphone use, sleep, and poor mental health may create a vicious circle over time, and nighttime smartphone use may constitute a potential leverage point for public health interventions aimed at improving sleep and mental health.

Keywords: adults; depressive symptoms; mental health; perceived stress; sleep; smartphone behavior.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Mental Health*
  • Sleep
  • Sleep Quality
  • Smartphone*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires

Grants and funding