Heavy Use of Social Media Linked to Sleep Problems

New research suggests spending significant time on social media is associated with sleep disturbances in young adults.

University of Pittsburgh medical school researchers discovered that those who spend a lot of time on social media during the day or check it frequently throughout the week, are more likely to suffer sleep disturbances than their peers who use social media less.

Study findings have been published online and are schedule for print publication in the journal Preventive Medicine.

Researchers believe the study indicates that physicians should consider asking young adult patients about social media habits when assessing sleep issues.

“This is one of the first pieces of evidence that social media use really can impact your sleep,” said lead author Jessica C. Levenson, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in Pittsburg’s Department of Psychiatry.

“And it uniquely examines the association between social media use and sleep among young adults who are, arguably, the first generation to grow up with social media.”

In 2014, Levenson and her colleagues sampled 1,788 U.S. adults ages 19 through 32, using questionnaires to determine social media use and an established measurement system to assess sleep disturbances.

The questionnaires asked about the 11 most popular social media platforms at the time: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine, and LinkedIn.

On average, the study participants used social media a total of 61 minutes per day and visited various social media accounts 30 times per week. The assessment showed that nearly 30 percent of the participants had high levels of sleep disturbance.

The participants who reported most frequently checking social media throughout the week had three times the likelihood of sleep disturbances, compared with those who checked least frequently.

And participants who spent the most total time on social media throughout the day had twice the risk of sleep disturbance, compared to peers who spent less time on social media.

“This may indicate that frequency of social media visits is a better predictor of sleep difficulty than overall time spent on social media,” Levenson explained.

“If this is the case, then interventions that counter obsessive ‘checking’ behavior may be most effective.”

Nevertheless, determination of the actual cause or causes for the sleep disturbance requires further investigation.

Senior author Brian A. Primack, M.D., Ph.D., assistant vice chancellor for health and society in Pittsburg’s Schools of the Health Sciences, emphasizes that more study is needed to determine whether social media use contributes to sleep disturbance, whether sleep disturbance contributes to social media use, or both.

For example, social media may disturb sleep if it is:

  • displacing sleep, such as when a user stays up late posting photos on Instagram;
  • promoting emotional, cognitive or physiological arousal, such as when engaging in a contentious discussion on Facebook;
  • disrupting circadian rhythms through the bright light emitted by the devices used to access social media accounts.

Alternatively, young adults who have difficulty sleeping may subsequently use social media as a pleasurable way to pass the time when they can’t fall asleep or return to sleep.

“It also may be that both of these hypotheses are true,” said Primack, also director of Pittsburg’s Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health.

“Difficulty sleeping may lead to increased use of social media, which may in turn lead to more problems sleeping. This cycle may be particularly problematic with social media because many forms involve interactive screen time that is stimulating and rewarding and, therefore, potentially detrimental to sleep.”

Source: University of Pittsburg School of Health Sciences/EurekAlert
Woman using laptop in bed photo by shutterstock.