COVID-19: More Screen Time Linked to Decreased Sleep Quality Interview with:

Michele Ferrara, PhD. Professor of Psychobiology and Physiological Psychology Chair of the Psychology Didactic Council Department of Biotechnological and Applied Clinical Sciences University of L'Aquila

Dr. Ferrara

Michele Ferrara, PhD.
Professor of Psychobiology and Physiological Psychology
Chair of the Psychology Didactic Council
Department of Biotechnological and Applied Clinical Sciences
University of L’Aquila What is the background for this study?

Response: During the current period of social distancing, the pervasive increase in the use of electronic devices (smartphones, computers, tablets and televisions) is an indisputable fact. Especially during the long lockdown period of Spring 2020, technologies played a pivotal role in coping with the unprecedented and stressful isolation phase. However, exposure to backlit screens in the hours before falling asleep can have serious repercussions on sleep health: on the one hand, by mimicking the effects of exposure to sunlight, and thus interfering with the circadian rhythm of the hormone melatonin, and on the other hand, counteracting the evening sleepiness due to the emotionally and psycho-physiologically activating contents.

In light of this assumption, we decided to test longitudinally during the third and the seventh week of lockdown a large Italian sample (2123 subjects) through a web-based survey. We assessed sleep disturbances/habits and the occurring changes of electronic device usage in the 2 hours before the sleep onset. What are the main findings?

Response: Our results showed that respondents who increased screen time (35.4%) reported decreased sleep quality, exacerbated insomnia symptoms, reduced sleep duration, prolonged sleep onset latency, and delayed bedtime and rising time. Conversely, respondents reporting decreased screen exposure (only 7.1%) exhibited improved sleep quality and insomnia symptoms. Finally, participants preserving screen time habits did not show variations of the sleep parameters. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: The evidence of a strong relationship between screen habits and the time course of sleep disturbances during the lockdown period suggests that now, more than never, raising public awareness about the risks of evening exposure to electronic devices could be crucial to preserve general sleep health. This applies to both the ongoing pandemic and the future, as technologies will find more and more space in our daily routine. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: It should be acknowledged that our findings relied on self-report measures, and future longitudinal studies are recommended including a detailed day-by-day quantification of screen time for each device and an objective estimation of sleep patterns. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Dr. Federico Salfi, Ph.D. student and first author of the paper: “The overuse of electronic devices in the hours before sleep was a deeply rooted habit in our society already before the pandemic emergency, in particular among young people. In our opinion, the current period of social distancing added fuel to the fire.”


Salfi, F., et al. (2021) Changes of evening exposure to electronic devices during the COVID-19 lockdown affect the time course of sleep disturbances. Sleep.



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Last Updated on June 3, 2021 by Marie Benz MD FAAD