Last night I thought I’d quickly check my Facebook in bed before going to sleep.
Before I knew it, I’d spent half an hour seeing what my family and friends had been up to that day, signed a petition and watched a couple of very funny videos.
I know I shouldn’t use my phone in bed before going to sleep, but it’s just too tempting to see what’s happening in the world.
These days, most people find it increasingly hard to live without regular access to social media. We’re constantly on the hunt for the nearest WiFi code and have our phones out the second we’re not doing anything special.
Even the older generations are increasingly assessing sites such as Facebook and YouTube. Equally, younger people have grown up with social media and it’s a normal part of their life.
In an earlier article I mentioned how using some electronic devices late at night, such as a tablet, mobile phone and laptop, can interfere with your ability to sleep.
Now some recent research, published in early 2016, suggests that frequent use of social media at any time of the day may have a large impact on your sleep.
Research shows how social media affects sleep
A team from the University of Pittsburgh looked at the social media usage of 1,788 adults aged between 19 and 32.
They used questionnaires to capture how long and how often people used social media during the day and evening. In this study social media covered 10 common sites:
- Google +
They also used a standard medical question-based measurement system to assess sleep disturbance of the candidates.
Their findings provide some fascinating insights:
- The average total time accessing social media was 61 minutes per day.
- Participants averaged about 30 visits each week to their various social media accounts.
- Nearly 30% of the 1,788 adults showed high levels of disturbed sleep.
- Those who checked their social media the most times were 3 times more likely to suffer from sleep disturbance compared to those who used social media the least.
- The people with the longest daily time spent looking at social media had twice the likelihood of disturbed sleep, compared to those who spent the shortest time.
Dr. Levenson, one of the study authors, said:
“This may indicate that frequency of social media visits is a better predictor of sleep difficulty than overall time spent on social media. If this is the case, then interventions that counter obsessive ‘checking’ behavior may be most effective.”
This study didn’t really try to find out why high users of social media appeared to suffer from the worst sleep. And as is often the case, the team said more research was needed to ascertain the actual causes.
I can imagine some logical possible reasons though, with it perhaps being a combination of factors, including:
- The bright light emitted by the devices might be interfering with people’s circadian rhythms and especially the natural release of Melatonin, an important precursor for sleep.
- People are so busy catching up, chatting and posting photos etc that they allow it to interfere with their normal sleep routine and time. It’s well known that keeping a regular sleep schedule is important for those who otherwise have trouble sleeping.
- Rather than relaxing, accessing social media could result in mental, emotional or physiological arousal which disturbs your ability to relax and drift off. Having a late night Twitter exchange will set your mind racing rather than relaxing. And playing visually and mentally exciting computer games before bed probably won’t put you in the right mood for sleep.
Equally, the researchers did say that they couldn’t rule out the possibility that it’s actually the other way around. So it could be that poor sleep results in people browsing social media rather than lying in bed wide awake and frustrated.
But I guess since frequency of use during the daytime also appears to effect sleep quality, it can’t entirely be due to extra web surfing whilst unable to sleep.
Should we change our ways?
It’s unlikely that this study is suddenly going to stop people, myself included, who suffer from disturbed sleep from using social media. I suspect most people will also be unwilling to reduce the number of times they access their various accounts.
But if you really are suffering from poor sleep, then perhaps there are some reasonable actions you could consider:
- Try and be strict with yourself at night at least. Don’t use electronic devices or access social media for at least an hour before going to bed.
- If certain sites result in you being stressed or over-stimulated, try not to look at them in the evening at all.
- If you find you constantly check your social media but wish you didn’t, then perhaps have set times of the day when you allow yourself to check them fully. Try to set yourself the goal of only checking social media 5 times a day at first, then reduce it to 3.
- If you can’t fall asleep then you could try some of our recommended mindfulness or meditation exercises instead of reaching for your phone.
Finally, you could do some tests yourself and see if reducing the time and frequency of accessing social media does actually improve your sleep. You might want to try keeping a sleep log, as we discuss in our article about how much sleep you need.
Do you use social media late at night or in bed? Do you find that when you do, it’s hard to stop? Have you noticed if you sleep worse on days when you’ve used social media a lot?
Feel free to share your thoughts and opinion in the comments box below.