While “nomophobia” isn’t a recognized disorder, many people know the feeling: a panic that arises when they are out of mobile phone contact—or a similar response to just the idea of losing contact.
A focus on nomophobia in a recent presentation at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s SLEEP 2020 conference in late August had radio DJs mentioning Hendrix College research in drive-time sound bites.
The presentation of preliminary results from a collaboration between researchers at Hendrix and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock revealed that in a sample of more than 300 college students, 89% experienced moderate or severe nomophobia. Greater nomophobia correlated to greater daytime sleepiness and more behaviors associated with poor sleep quality. What’s more, it means the common recommendation to decrease phone use around bedtime may not help people who experience nomophobia—limiting their smartphone use before bed might actually increase anxiety and make it harder to get to sleep and stay asleep.
“The recommendation to curtail bedtime phone use, which is meant to improve sleep and seems rather straightforward, might need adjustment or consideration for these individuals,” said Dr. Jennifer Peszka, the Charles Prentiss Hough Odyssey Professor of Psychology at Hendrix College and principal investigator on the study.
Co-investigators on this project are Dr. David Mastin and Dr. Bruce Moore of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and members of the UA Little Rock undergraduate student research team: Shalonda Michelle, Benjamin T. Collins, Nataly Abu-Halimeh, Monnar Quattom, Maya Henderson, Madison Sanders, and Jeremiah Critton.
Peszka’s Hendrix undergraduate team (Hayley Chunn ’21, Justin Lockhart ’19, Graham Harris ’18, Kelly Brice ’17, Althea Strozier ’17, Kristi Scott ’18, Adrian Shuler ’17, Amy Crump ’18, Jessica Bonumwezi ’17, and Alundra Dickson ’17) came up with the idea to explore nomophobia while considering the larger topic of how technology use in the two hours before bed affects “sleep hygiene,” or the behaviors and environmental variables that can improve sleep quality.
“I always have a big question or project that we’re working on, but I encourage my student researchers to add components to the study that are of particular interest to them,” she said. “If it makes sense, and we can ask a good question that contributes to the literature about their topic, then we add it in. The students thought that ‘cell phone addiction’ might moderate some of the relationships we examined. That group of students were all pretty high on nomophobia themselves, so they were really interested in the outcome.”
Peszka found it particularly interesting that the percentage of college students who report experiencing nomophobia has risen by about 12% since 2012, when the nomophobia scale was developed.
“Nomophobia may very well be on a rapid rise,” she said. “That may not seem like a very interesting or concerning development, but here we found that severity of nomophobia was predictive of sleepiness, which can have a significant impact on daily life.”