Teenagers who spend a lot of time on Facebook and Twitter irrespective of the time are more likely to suffer sleep disturbances than their peers who prefer outdoor activities with smartphones on silent mode, say researchers.
“This is one of the first pieces of evidence that social media use really can impact your sleep,” said lead author Jessica C Levenson, post-doctoral researcher at the University of Pittsburgh.
To reach this conclusion, Levenson and her colleagues sampled 1,788 adults ages 19-32, 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 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.
The 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.
Published online in the journal Preventive Medicine, the study indicates that physicians should consider asking young adult patients about social media habits when assessing sleep issues.
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. Difficulty sleeping may lead to increased use of social media, which may in turn lead to more problems sleeping,” noted senior author Brian A Primack, director of Pitt’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health.
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, the authors pointed out.