According to New Research, If You Love Social Media, You Probably Don’t Sleep Well
Social media usage correlates with sleeplessness, according to a new study, although it doesn’t necessarily cause sleep troubles. According to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, young adults who spend a lot of time on social media tend to also have trouble sleeping. It’s not known whether sleep deprivation leads to increased social media usage, or whether all that Twitter scrolling is leading to sleep loss — but the two definitely seem to be connected.
How much is “a lot” when it comes to social media, anyway? This study, which sampled 1,788 U.S. adults aged 19-32, found that they averaged at 61 minutes per day looking at social media, and they tended to check social media 30 times per week. Checking social media frequently — even if you don’t necessarily spend a lot of time on it — correlated highly with sleep disturbance.
Jessica C. Levenson, Ph.D., the study’s lead author, elaborated: “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.”
Senior author Brian A. Primack, M.D., Ph.D. emphasized that further study would be necessary to determine whether social media affects sleeplessness, or whether sleeplessness contributes to higher social media usage:
It also may be that both of these hypotheses are true. 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.
From my own anecdotal experiences with sleeplessness, I’ve found both to be true. If I already can’t sleep and I’m lying awake looking at my ceiling, the chances are good that I’ll eventually dig out my phone and look at Twitter, even if only for a minute or two. But also, I’ve caught myself getting stuck in a ‘checking’ loop that keeps me from getting into bed in the first place.
Social media rewards persistent refreshing — that’s how it’s built, and I doubt that reward system will change any time soon. If you’re already a bored insomniac, it’s tempting to stay stuck in a ‘checking’ loop, because it’s something to do. It’s pretty hard to say whether one causes the other, but it doesn’t come as any big surprise to me that this correlation exists. Now if only researchers could find a way for us all to break the cycle … ? Uninstalling Twitter from my phone probably couldn’t hurt. Sigh.
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