‘Fear of missing out’ (shorted to FOMO by acronym fanatics) is keeping teens up all night and affecting their health.

A fear of missing out (FOMO) is giving teenagers sleepless nights as they stay up late texting, chatting and gaming.

It’s so bad that seven out of 10 Australian teens are sleep deprived, says Dr Chris Seton, a pediatric and adolescent sleep physician. Without intervention they are vulnerable to learning problems, family disharmony, school absenteeism, poor self-esteem, depression and obesity, he says.

Children aged 12-to-18 need an average of nine hours of sleep a night – a good way for parents to tell if they are not getting that is to monitor how late they sleep at weekends, says Dr Seton of the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research.

“It’s a red flag if they sleep more than two hours beyond their normal wake up time.”

The institute, which is linked to the University of Sydney, has opened a specialist fortnightly clinic for children with sleeping disorders.

Screen use is the most common problem among teenagers, but they can also suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea, psychological insomnia and a jetlag-type condition known as delayed sleep phasing.

Some children develop delayed sleep phasing at puberty, causing their body clock to go out of sync. This causes tiredness and anxiety and they need specialist help to solve the problem.

The clinic will provide access to specialists in medical and psychological aspects of sleep as well as doctors who understand allergies and ear, nose and throat conditions. They will work together to diagnose and treat conditions such as toddler night terrors, insomnia, sleep apnoea and delayed sleep phasing.

The clinic has two fully equipped suites where sleep patterns can be monitored overnight.

“This will significantly reduce the waiting time for diagnosis and treatment,” Dr Seton says.

Dr Seton has also developed a website called Sleepshack, where teenagers can have online consultations with him and a sleep psychologist.

The program costs $140 and is not covered by Medicare. However, there is also a free section that gives most parents the information they need to correct sleep problems related to screen use.

In order to help sleep deprived teenagers (and adults) we spoke with University of Sydney senior psychology lecturer Dr Andrew Campbel, a leader in the field of technology addiction, to put together a 12-step digital detox plan that will help you switch off and shut down.

Digital detox steps

  1. Recognise the problem. If you fall asleep iPad in hand, your friends have stopped inviting you out because you’re glued to your phone or you’ve given up exercising because you can’t bear to be away from the computer, then it’s time to admit you need help.
  2. Start small. Turn off all your technology for a set time each day, even if it’s only 20 minutes.
  3. Separate work and social technology use. Checking your professional and personal email accounts simultaneously means more screen time and less time to relax. Set up a schedule to divide the two.
  4. Enlist the support of family and friends. Next time you’re out, make switching off a group activity. Try placing all phones in the middle of the table and the first person to touch theirs pays for dinner.
  5. Banish phone time on public transport. Don’t whip out your phone to pass the time on a bus, train or even in a taxi. Instead, look out the window and appreciate your surroundings.
  6. Save big news for face to face meetings. Don’t fire off a group message when you have a great story to tell. Make an effort to tell people in person. Their reaction will be better than any emoticon.
  7. Remove technology from the bedroom. You’ll get a better night’s sleep if you keep your phone and iPad in another room.
  8. Use your technology to remind you to switch off. Set an alarm on your phone that will remind you it’s time to turn off and take a break each day.
  9. Don’t turn to social media for help. When you have a problem, don’t resort to posting a Facebook status and spend hours sifting through replies. See somebody face-to-face.
  10. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. There may be an underlying cause behind your excessive technology use. A counsellor or psychologist can help you with the problem.
  11. Set up a reward system. Restore balance to your life and only engage in recreational technology time when you’ve ticked all other boxes. If you’ve spent an hour outside then you can have half an hour of computer time.
  12. Get active. Sign up for activities which make it harder to check technology, such as outdoor exercise groups.
Is your teenager staying up all night on their phone or computer? Let us know if FOMO is something your teen suffers from!