New research apparently confirms a phenomenon that many of us may have already suspected: excessive exposure to social media can disrupt sleep patterns. The conclusion comes from a study by a team at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, which found that the longer young adults spend on social media, the more likely they are to have the quality of their sleep compromised.
This is the first time that the connection between the two has been confirmed through research, and gives physicians a new line of inquiry when assessing patients with sleep complaints. The study focused on young adults because they are the first generation to grow up using social media.
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In 2014, Dr. Jessica Levenson's team sampled 1,788 US adults aged 19-32, using questionnaires to evaluate their use of social media against a measurement system for sleep disturbance. All the major platforms were included in the study, such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.
The study found that, on average, participants used social media for 61 minutes daily and visited various social media accounts around 30 times per week. Of the total number of respondents, around 30 percent presented high levels of sleep disruption. Sleep disturbances became more likely as the regularity of visits to social media during the week increased – in these cases, it could be three times higher in comparison with those who were least active on their accounts.
The same result was observed in terms of daily amount of time spent on social media. The ones who scored the most total time had twice the risk of sleep disturbance in relation to those who spent less time on social networks.
"This may indicate that frequency of social media visits is a better predictor of sleep difficulty than overall time spent on social media," Dr. Levenson says. "If this is the case, then interventions that counter obsessive 'checking' behavior may be most effective."
The researchers say further investigating is needed, but they have raised some hypotheses to shed light on the connection between social media and poor sleep, and whether the latter could also be leading to more time on social media. According to them, staying up late to post on social media profiles, engaging in heated debates and receiving the bright light emitted by the devices (which can disrupt circadian rhythms) are possible causal factors.
The other possibility is that people take to social media to pass time when they can't sleep, which could end up exacerbating the problem.
"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," says senior author Brian Primack.
A paper on the research is scheduled to appear in the April issue of the journal Preventive Medicine.