A Saint John psychiatrist says is cellphone use is the reason why teens aren't getting enough sleep and said parents need to set a better example.

Dr. Rachel Morehouse, medical director of the Atlantic Sleep Centre at Saint John Regional Hospital, said several recent studies from around the world have drawn the same conclusion — phones are interfering with sleep.

"They certainly all have a theme, and the theme would be that the use of social media by adolescents late at night and into the night seems to correlate with less sleep, difficulty getting up in the morning, underachievement at school and depression," she told Information Morning.

Dr. Rachel Morehouse

Dr. Rachel Morehouse says her biggest concern is the connection between excessive cellphone use and depression. (LinkedIn)

Morehouse said adolescents who are getting less sleep are showing more problems at school and symptoms of mood disorders.

The results were not surprising to Morehouse, who said she's been seeing it in her Saint John practice, but it's been an issue long before Facebook and Twitter. She said there have been similar issues with teens who reported having televisions and gaming systems in their rooms.

"Now it's so much more than that, because it's communication between adolescents. It's phones and smartphones and Facebook and stuff like that," she said.

Sleep hygiene critical

Once it gets to the stage where the teen needs treatment, Morehouse said, it usually presents as insomnia.

When a patient is sent to her for treatment, she said, one of the first steps is to study the teen's sleep hygiene — activities they engage in before going to bed.

'A lot of teenagers are sleeping with the phone under their pillow.' - Dr. Rachel Morehouse, Atlantic Sleep Centre

Morehouse said she looks for any sleep-toxic behaviours, such as drinking coffee or cola, playing video games and the big one: chatting or texting on the cellphone.

"The other alarming thing, sometimes they are texting, and so on, in the middle of the night," she said.

"A lot of teenagers are sleeping with the phone under their pillow."

The biggest concern for Morehouse is the connection between excessive cellphone use and depression.

"Adolescents have big tasks ahead of them. They're trying to succeed in school, trying to maybe go to higher education, they're trying to socialize and meet people and connect with people and maybe date. They are big tasks," she said, and constant access of social media just adds to the burden.

"When it's taken in high doses, it's not good. And when it interferes with their sleep, it is definitely not good because sleep is so important for so many other things," Morehouse said.

Adolescents need self-care

Morehouse said it's up to parents and doctors to talk to kids about the problem, but not necessarily impose a cellphone curfew.

She said teens have to learn to take care of themselves, be able to make sure they get eight hours of sleep a night and know when to pull the plug.

"That's a self-care kind of thing that adolescents are going to have to learn," she said, adding it won't be easy as many adults haven't yet learned how to do it.

Morehouse suggests a family docking station so the whole family can unplug at night.

"Everybody has to unplug and that's just what our family does," she said.