“I log on to YouTube and, even if I don’t watch them, I let the videos play in the background, and I stay like that, and I wait. I can’t go to bed without having listened to a youtuber or a series, or something like that, “says a 16-year-old teenager, for whom screens act as background noise to accompany sleep. According to a 2018 study, he’s far from alone in doing so: Screen use in the evening, at bedtime — and sometimes even at night — is common among young people, affecting their sleep .

During the transition from childhood to adolescence, there are changes in sleep that can be explained by biological reasons but also by environmental reasons. Indeed, evening habits are changing: becoming more independent of their parents, teenagers adopt new routines, between homework and screens, which can delay bedtime.

In 2001, authors already observed bedtimes 1 to 3 hours later in adolescence than in preadolescence, associated with difficulty getting up early in the morning. According to a 2012 study, many teens go to bed late on weekdays and then get up early for school, in effect accumulating a debt of sleep that they will try to make up for on weekends with sleep times. longer.

In a study of 31 families and their children aged 8 to 19, funded by the VINCI Autoroutes Foundation, we found an average of 7.49 hours of sleep among children aged 8 to 11, while the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends 9 to 12 hours for this age group.

And we saw an average of 7.08 hours of sleep for older kids (14-19), although the AASM recommends 8-10 hours of sleep for this audience. 43% of teenagers aged 12 to 18 sleep less than 7 hours on weekdays.

Evening habits are also changing: among the youngest, there are more moments shared with family, especially around television, or time for games or reading. Over time, activities tend to become more individual and centered around screens. One mother aptly describes the change she sees in her teenage daughter:

“We’re a pantry, which means she lives in the self-catering, she eats, she goes to bed, washes herself, etc., but she doesn’t fall asleep much earlier than the others , she is in bed and watching her social networks, series, YouTube […]. The programs we watch don’t interest him. »

Over the years, young people will invest more in their room and their telephone and the moments shared with family in the evening, if there are any left, will be present mainly on weekends and generally around a film.

Some, however, are asking for these times on weekdays in order to be able to watch more: “In fact, if we don’t watch a movie or play board games with the family, they will tell us to go to bed” , recognizes one of the participants. Television would then be a mediator allowing the sharing of a moment with the family and in parallel, a later bedtime.

Regardless of age, screens are present in the evening for most participants, but for the youngest, it is almost exclusively with the family, around the television and mostly at weekends. Among the oldest, use is more individual, mainly centered around the console or the telephone, and both during the week and at the weekend. New activities such as using the phone, homework, revisions or work then replace family time, reading or games that the youngest can adopt.

Thus, television seems to be still invested over the years, but more for the use of video games or watching a movie. Some parents point out that television programming is later than in their day, and, in fact, no longer constitutes a benchmark for bedtime on weekdays.

Aside from screens, the majority of young people practice a hobby, sport or cultural activity at least one evening a week, which can also change evening habits (meals, screen time, family time, bedtime ). Contrary to what one might think, some use screens out of boredom or loneliness, and it would seem that television can be used in these moments of “background noise” to fill the void, as 11-year-old Imane recounts:

“It happens that I am alone on Wednesday and Monday mornings because mom and my brother start early […]. I turn on the TV to get sound. I play my phone a bit or either got another game for my birthday or I make bracelets. »

Thus, television often seems to be used either as a transitional object (towards sleep, for example), or to fill a void, or to allow the family to stay up late, rather than out of a real interest in the programs offered.

*Ella Louis, PhD student at the Inter-University Psychology Laboratory, Savoie Mont Blanc University.