Is Cell Phone Addiction a Thing? Smartphone Use, Sleep, Anxiety & Depression

Anxiety Stress and Panic Attacks

Is Cell Phone Addiction a Thing? Smartphone Use, Sleep, Anxiety & Depression

Is there such a thing as cell phone addiction? Many people often describe themselves as being ‘addicted’ to their smartphone but is this an accurate description or just a way we have of describing how our mobile phones have become more and more integrated into our daily living?

My wife has said to me in the past that she thinks I’m addicted to my cell phone as I may have a quick check quite a few times, especially if there are some live football or rugby scores to be checked. Yet when she has that screen five inches from her face for a long period she’s much more likely to consider that she is being practical by responding to work messages. And my eldest daughter is rarely more than one metre away from her smartphone (or 30 minutes away from her next Facetime) and can seemingly start to get a bit edgy if her battery starts falling much below 20%.

Are we all addicted or are we just all making use of technology in a way that suits us individually? As technology continues to develop, is any of it really a problem?

The research seems to suggest that cell phone addiction is certainly a thing and that there are outcomes and consequences from how we utilise cell phones that can impact on our sleep, anxiety and depression levels, as well as our cognitive processing and task performance.


My Smartphone In Action

Before I get into some of the research about cell phone addiction and the cognitive and performance impacts of our smartphones, I need full disclosure of my own mobile phone use.

It’s true that my mobile phone is probably never far away from my person by day or by night. Whilst I definitely make more use of my tablet when at home and work, it’s the cell phone that travels in my pocket with me pretty much wherever I go. It’s my clock and it’s my camera, it’s my phone and my message receiver. It’s what I use when I’m out if I want to check something or learn something online.

However, it’s also true that my smartphone is now (at the time of writing this) over three years old with a memory only slightly greater than that of a goldfish. That means it has no storage space for any social media apps so no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for me when I’m out and about, and it is also separate to my work e-mails so none of that interrupts on a Sunday afternoon out with the kids. In many ways it’s mainly a clock and a camera which sometimes lets me go online too if I am near enough to a wi-fi hotspot.

What my mobile phone does allow me to do in particular is to capture happy times out with the kids, like this one from a recent trip to St Ives:


cell phone addiction hypnotherapy ely


And in terms of communication, staying connected, efficiency, knowledge and information, there’s probably little doubt that our smartphones bring benefits. Yet what are the downsides to how we may be using our cell phones?


Cell Phone Addiction

Cell phone addiction as a thing seems to now be readily accepted as a thing that exists, however, its scope and prevalence is perhaps less clear from the current research. More and more people own a mobile phone and the age at which people start using cell phones seemingly gets younger and younger, whether that’s in those ten or above having their own smartphone or from even younger children making habitual use of their parents’ devices.

In their review of Cell Phone Addiction, Gutiérrez et al (2016), write how the research clearly shows problematic cell phone use is an emerging problem tightly linked to technological development. However, there exists a lack of uniformity and coherence in existing studies and terms such as addiction, problematic use and abuse are all used.

Yet as they say, “whether or not it is an addiction, cell phones give rise to problems that increasingly affect daily life.’  These can include problems such as use in dangerous situations or prohibited contexts, loss of interest in other activities, repeated interruptions, periods of insomnia and sleep disturbance and feelings of irritability, anxiety and loneliness if separated from your phone or being unable to immediately send or receive messages.

On top of this problems and issues are those such as fears and worries about not having a mobile phone, being without a cell phone or unable to access the internet, false sensations of having received a text message or call that leads to constantly checking and the anxiety of receiving and responding immediately to text messages.

The problematic use of cell phones has been associated with personality variables, such as extraversion, neuroticism, self-esteem, impulsivity, self-identity, and self-image. Similarly, sleep disturbance, anxiety, stress, and, to a lesser extent, depression, which are also associated with Internet abuse, have been associated with problematic cell-phone use” (Cell Phone Addiction, Gutiérrez et al (2016))

Cell phone addiction is also different to internet addiction. With internet addiction, users have a wider age range and tend to be more masculine with a greater presence of introversion and social isolation. In contrast, cell phone addiction has a younger, more feminine profile with greater extroversion though instant messaging and social networks.

So whilst its prevalence and precise criteria may not be firmly established yet, cell phone addiction is certainly regarded through the evidence and research as a thing that exists and can be problematic. So how else can the problematic use of smartphones impact on your well-being?


Smart Phone Use, Sleep, Anxiety and Depression 

Pretty much everyone these days seems to know that using any type of screen in the time leading up to going to sleep is often not a good idea if you want to sleep well (although knowing that doesn’t necessarily mean doing it!).

And with the vast majority of us these days having a cell phone or mobile phone of some kind (it’s estimated to be about 95% of us) with a large percentage of us having a smartphone, that can contribute to many sleep related problems (whether that’s getting to sleep, staying asleep or spending so long online that you don’t even have time for enough sleep).

Smartphone use (and other devices) may impact sleep because it displaces sleep and you lose track of how much time you are spending on your smartphone or because it leads to getting mentally, emotionally or physically aroused by what you are doing. Of course, the light from your phone may affect your sleep and receiving emails or messages may wake you up from receiving an alert or because of wanting to check or reply to them.

How we use our smartphones in the daytime can also cause issues, not least of which are physical health related problems such as blurred vision and wrist or neck pain. And whilst our smartphones can be very handy indeed in all sorts of ways, it’s been suggested that they can cause behavioural difficulties, interfere with study or work, negatively impact on relationships and reduce real-life social interaction.

And a 2015 study looked into the association between sleep quality, depression and anxiety and smartphone overuse or addiction. Based on a sample of 319 university students, Demirci et al (2015), found that depression and anxiety scores were higher in the high smartphone use group that in the low smartphone use group. They concluded that depression, anxiety and sleep quality may be associated with smartphone overuse and that such overuse may lead to depression and/or anxiety, which can in turn result in sleep problems.

Ultimately, depression, anxiety and sleep quality may be associated with smartphone overuse. Smartphone overuse may lead to depression and/or anxiety, which can in turn result in sleep problems” (Demirci et al).

And, of course, poor sleep, anxiety and depression can have impacts into every area of your life such as your relationships, work or study and engaging in the kind of stuff you normally enjoy, all of which can negatively influence your sense of self-esteem. Their study results also suggested that women and younger users may be more vulnerable to smartphone overuse or addiction.

Whilst this study looked at university students, and that age group (and younger) may arguably be more active and engaged in their devices, if depression and anxiety are issues for you, it may be worth, based on this study, paying attention as to whether your smartphone overuse is contributing in any way to what you are experiencing.


Cell Phone & Smartphone Addiction

All the research tends to suggest that cell phone and smartphone addiction exist and are on the rise. Our devices can be massively useful for all sorts of tasks and communication and in that way can contribute to improving emotional and psychological well-being. However, they can also cause all sorts of behavioural and anxiety issues and can even be used as an escape from negative feelings and thoughts without addressing the issues. And overuse could well be associated with depression, anxiety and poor sleep quality.

Even by themselves, anxiety, depression and poor sleep are likely to impact on your mental focus, concentration and performance. Yet are cell phones and smartphones impacting on our thinking processes and performance in detrimental ways that we may not even realise? I’ll be covering more on the impact of your mobile on these things in my next article so if you want to perform better then it will certainly be worth taking a look at the evidence I’ll be covering around this.

In the meantime, be sure to do a quick self-check of how your cell phone / smartphone use may currently already be impacting on your physical and mental health and well-being and start making your technology work for you rather than drive you.

To your success,

Dan Regan

Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket


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Demirci, K., Akgönül, M. and Akpinar, A., 2015. Relationship of smartphone use severity with sleep quality, depression, and anxiety in university students. Journal of behavioral addictions, 4(2), pp.85-92.

De-Sola Gutiérrez, J., Rodríguez de Fonseca, F. and Rubio, G., 2016. Cell-phone addiction: a review. Frontiers in psychiatry, 7, p.175.

Drouin, M., Kaiser, D.H. and Miller, D.A., 2012. Phantom vibrations among undergraduates: Prevalence and associated psychological characteristics. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(4), pp.1490-1496.

Kang, S. and Kurtzberg, T.R., 2019. Reach for your cell phone at your own risk: The cognitive costs of media choice for breaks. Journal of behavioral addictions, 8(3), pp.395-403.

Kwon, M., Lee, J. Y., Won, W. Y., Park, J. W., Min, J. A., Hahn, C., … Kim, D. J. (2013). Development and validation of a smartphone addiction scale (SAS). PloS one, 8(2), e56936. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0056936

Stothart, C., Mitchum, A. and Yehnert, C., 2015. The attentional cost of receiving a cell phone notification. Journal of experimental psychology: human perception and performance, 41(4), p.893.

Ward, A.F., Duke, K., Gneezy, A. and Bos, M.W., 2017. Brain drain: The mere presence of one’s own smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, 2(2), pp.140-154.



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