Commentary

More Research Links Social Media to Sleep Loss in Teens

This week brings even more evidence that social media usage is correlated with sleep loss and related negative outcomes in teenagers. The latest study comes from the University of Cardiff in Wales, where researchers investigated teen social media habits and found that over a third of teens wake up in the middle of the night to check social media every week.

The researchers surveyed 848 Welsh teenagers, ages 12-15, and found that 22% of the 12-13 age group and 23% of the 14-15 age group say they “almost always” wake up at night to check their social media and respond to messages from friends. Meanwhile another 14% of the younger group and 15% of the older group said they do this at least once a week.

No surprise, these behaviors are enabled by the almost universal availability of smart phones, which make it easier to check social media without arousing parental wrath.

Again unsurprisingly, these behaviors are correlated with teens feeling groggy during the day: over half of the teens who check social media during the night said “they almost always go to school feeling tired,” compared to 32% of the younger group overall and 39% of the older group overall. Checking social media at night is also correlated with lower levels of self-reported feelings of well-being and happiness.

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Earlier this month I wrote about another study, also from Britain, which linked “fear of missing out,” or FOMO, with sleep loss and other negative outcomes. The study, by researchers at the University of Glasgow, surveyed 467 teens ages 11-17 about their social media usage throughout the day, and found that teens who expressed a higher degree of emotional investment in social media were more likely to use social media at night, have poor sleep quality, suffer from low self-esteem, and feel depression and anxiety than peers who didn’t feel so invested in social media.

Another Canadian study, based on a survey of 753 high school students in Ontario, found that intensive social media use is correlated with teen depression. Specifically, teens who spend more than two hours per day on social media -- a quarter of the total survey group -- were significantly more likely to report poor mental health and psychological distress, including suicidal thoughts.

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