Dalton Ira is like most teenagers with a cellphone and other electronic devices.

It's a necessity, but nothing to lose sleep over.

Easier said than done, as the recent Rosewood High School graduate stayed up into the wee hours of the morning often this past year, doing what it took to complete assignments and work for potential scholarships.

He recalled when his mother set limits when he was younger, taking away his phone early in the evening.

"This frustrated me growing up, but now I see the benefits of these limitations," he wrote in an essay that won him first place -- and a $1,000 scholarship -- in this year's Charles T. Gibson Teen Public Health Leadership Essay Contest.

His topic, Effects of Technology on Teenage Sleep Patterns, dealt with the recommended 9.5 hours of sleep recommended for teens, which only an estimated 8 percent of those in that demographic get.

Online classes and homework, plus the fact that youth tend to procrastinate, make it a tricky balance, Ira said.

"I have felt the effects of losing sleep, and I know that I am not alone," he wrote in his essay. "Many teenagers stay up late on their phones and play on their video game consoles.

"The lack of quality sleep due to modern technology leads to poor productivity in school and being excessively tired for most of the day."

The statistics are staggering, he said Thursday night as he presented his findings during the Wayne County Board of Health meeting at the Wayne County Public Library.

Ninety-five percent of 18- to 29-year-olds sleep with their phones by the bed, he said. Twenty-five percent don't silence the devices, and 50 percent will immediately check their phones when they awaken during the night.

Technology is not going anywhere, though, he said, before offering up a couple solutions to the challenge.

Set a "tech bedtime," he said, explaining it as a boundary around use of the devices, which emit blue lights that disrupt sleep patterns.

"I know that I need to put my phone away an hour before going to bed to get my best sleep," he said.

There is also a way to adjust settings on devices so the brightness on the screen is diminished, he said.

This marked the 15th year for local youth to participate in the scholarship contest, said Brittney Davis, public health education specialist.

The Board of Health and Health Department introduced the idea in 2003, as the abstinence essay contest. It focused primarily on abstinence as an effective measure in preventing teen pregnancies.

In 2014, the concept was broadened to incorporate public health issues included in the community health assessment. It was later named for a long-time board member Tommy Gibson.

The contest, open to teens in public, private and home-school settings, provides an opportunity to share about a public health topic that is an issue in the county, while offering up a possible solution to resolve it.

Ira, who will attend UNC-Wilmington in the fall to pursue a degree in film studies, was also first place winner in the contest in 2017. In addition to the scholarship money, he received a $75 gift card.

Second place went to Claire Molloy, a recent graduate of Eastern Wayne High School who plans to attend UNC-Chapel Hill and study nutrition. Her essay topic was HPV, the Human Papillomavirus and concerns about lack of access to care and prevention for what is the main cause of cervical cancer.

She received a $500 scholarship and $50 gift card.

Carter Lewis, a rising sophomore at Wayne School of Engineering, received third place, netting him a $300 scholarship and $50 gift card.

His topic was Adolescent Health in the Digital Age, focusing on what he called the "digital dare" that teens encounter online, citing such examples as the cinnamon challenge and Tide pod challenge that can lead to serious public health issues that include serious injuries and even death.

Health director Davin Madden applauded the three finalists, saying he was "really impressed" with the effort shown, first with writing the essay and then the presentation made before an audience.

"All three did an awesome job on the solutions," he said. "I do think you put some time into thinking about that.

"As a health director and Board of Health that has a responsibility to look at public health, it opens up the gateway to think further ahead and how the public health impact is going to be evaluated in the community. It gives us an opportunity to see what you young people, students, are doing and putting forth for people in this community."