To explore the how teens manage the deep connection some have with their cell phones, the survey asked whether they had ever slept with their phones on or with it right next to their beds. More than eight in ten cell-owning teens (84%) said yes, they had done this at some point. One motivation for having the phone nearby when sleeping is eventual connectivity. It is also worth noting that many teens use the clock function on their phone as an alarm clock. These middle school boys noted:
- Boy 1: I don’t turn it off at night, I always want to be able to check the time because I can’t really look at the clock without my glasses so I just look at the time.
- Boy 2: This is my clock. This is my watch.
- Boy 3: This is my alarm.
While the functionality of the clock might legitimize having the cell phone bedside, it is also a potential communication channel.
Older teens are more likely to sleep with their phones than younger teens. While 78% of cell-owning 12 and 13 year-olds have slept with their phones right next to them, that figure is 86% among cell-owning teens age 14 and older. Moreover, African-American teens and those from households with incomes below $50,000 are slightly more likely to engage in this behavior than other teen cell phone users. Among African-American cell-owning teens, 91% say they have slept with their phone on or right next to their bed, and among lower income cell-owning teens, 89% say they have done this.
But the biggest driver of whether a teen sleeps with their phone is texting. Teens who use their cell phones to text are 42% more likely to sleep with their phones than cell-owning teens that do not text.
The focus groups provided some insights into how and why teens stay connected to their phones at night. A fairly common practice seems to be sleeping with one’s phone under the pillow, so that it will wake the teen if someone is trying to contact them. Others say they fall asleep with the phone in their hand, sometimes mid-conversation, or keep the phone in bed with them or right beside them on their nightstand. Those who keep the phone under the pillow or in the bed say it is for practical reasons—they are concerned that the phone will fall off of their nightstands during the night and break, so they feel safer keeping it in bed with them.
Most teens in the focus groups said they do not like being called during the night unless it is an emergency, and they leave their phones on with the assumption that if they do get a call, it will be about something important. For this reason, most of the teens we spoke with said they are reluctant to turn their phones off altogether at night and turn it to vibrate instead so they can be contacted if necessary.
A small minority of teens we spoke with said they turn their phones off while sleeping, or set limits with friends for when it is, and is not, okay to contact them at night. As one girl explained, her voicemail recording tells friends that it is okay to contact her up until 10:30 PM, but no later. And another boy explained that his mother has set his phone to deactivate at 11:00 PM on school nights, and that he often has to tell his friends, much to their surprise, that he must end a conversation because he is going to bed.
Despite these measures, teens lament intrusive and frivolous calls and texts received at all hours of the night. Often, they are the pranks of bored friends or mischievous siblings. Other times, they are friends reaching out to chat. At those times, some teens feel obligated to respond. As one high school girl explained, "Our friends are texting constantly, and the people will wake me up at like midnight and I have to like wake up and talk to them or like they’ll think I’m mad at them or something."