Study shows effects of evening activities on sleep for adolescents

BYU student Lindsey Newell gets a good night’s rest. A recent study by BYU professors explored the importance of evening activities in getting a good night’s rest. (Photo courtesy of Elliott Miller)

A study conducted by BYU professors found that how adolescents spend their evenings affects their ability to get a good night’s sleep. 

College of Family, Home and Social Sciences professors Jocelyn Wikle and Blake Jones researched how families can help children experience healthy development. Their study looked at how 15-18-year-old adolescents spend their evenings and connected that with their bedtime and sleep time. 

These findings are relevant to college students as they enter an environment where they are more responsible for their sleep schedule, according to family life professor Jocelyn Wikle. 

“Sleep is so fundamental to health during the teenage years, and we were interested in finding out more about how a family’s environment could potentially support healthy sleep,” she said. 

The study used a large nationally representative sample of teenagers from across the U.S., according to Wikle, and looked at the timing of their activities prior to bedtime. Some activities, such as screen time, eating, spending time in public places or hanging out with friends were associated with teenagers going to bed later. Other activities including active leisure time, like playing sports or exercising, and homework were not associated with going to bed late. 

Wikle said that when the teenagers did go to bed late, they didn’t get as much sleep because they didn’t get to sleep in longer than those who went to bed earlier. 

While adolescents typically live with parents who can support or enforce good sleep habits, college students may not. Wikle said the findings of this study can be relative to college students as they experience greater freedom over their own sleep schedule. Procrastinating at bedtime can easily happen when there are fun things to do. 

For one college student, Daniel Rice, spending time with friends is one thing that results in a later bedtime. He said that when he first got to college, he wasn’t very social, so it was easy to get to bed at a decent time. However, as he has spent more time with friends it resulted in him going to bed later. 

Rice thinks the social aspect of college is a big contributor to college students putting off going to bed because they have to choose between sleep and seeing their friends. He said bedtime procrastination is common among college students, in his experience, and that he sometimes delays going to bed even if he wants to or feels obligated to.

“I feel kinda too lazy to do my bedtime routine,” Rice said. 

For BYU sophomore James Erickson, it was easy for him to establish a consistent sleep schedule when he started college. 

“Because I had just gotten back from my mission, I think I was really good about just going to bed and waking up,” Erickson said. 

He was used to a schedule of waking up at 6:30 a.m. and going to bed at 10:30 p.m. on his mission and was able to maintain a similar schedule his freshman year.

According to Erickson, he doesn’t really use his phone at night, although he doesn’t know if that helps him get more sleep.

However, Erickson also mentioned that the biggest thing that keeps him up later than his planned bedtime is if he wants to hang out with friends. If he does stay up later for whatever reason, he tends to sleep in if he can.

Wikle said the study is meant to give information to help people make decisions for themselves about when they go to bed. 

“We hope that what this research shows about the important role that bedtime plays in getting enough sleep and will help people be more intentional about bedtime,” Wikle said.

If people recognize sleep procrastination when it happens, they can be more active in making better decisions about sleep, according to Wikle.

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