This week brought even more evidence linking social media to sleep disturbances in young adults, potentially affecting their physical and emotional well-being and academic performance, among other things. As always, it should be noted that correlation does not necessarily equal causation, as other explanations for the connection are possible.
The latest study, conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and scheduled for publication in Preventive Medicine, surveyed 1,788 U.S. adults ages 19-32 about their social media use and sleep habits. The survey included questions about time spent on all the major social media platforms, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, Pinterest and Vine.
The participants spent an average of 61 minutes per day using social media, and visited social media around 30 times per week. Overall, around 30% of them indicated they experience a great deal of sleep disturbance.
Separating the respondents into heavy social media users and light users, respondents who checked social media more throughout the week were three times as likely as those who checked it less frequently to experience major sleep disturbances. Meanwhile, respondents who spent more time on social media were twice as likely as respondents who spent less time to experience major sleep disturbances.
The study authors noted that the results of the study don’t prove a one-way causal connection, with social media use responsible for sleep disturbance; the converse could also be true, with sleep disturbance resulting in more social media use. However, there are plausible mechanisms by which social media could cause sleep disturbance, including simply displacing sleep (staying up late to use social media); promoting emotional or cognitive arousal that makes it difficult to sleep (unable to stop thinking about an argument on social media); and disrupting circadian rhythms with the light emitted by mobile devices.
Back in October a study carried out by the UK Office of National Statistics found that children ages 10-15 who spend more than three hours a day on social media were significantly more likely to experience mental health problems than those who spent less than three hours on social media (27% versus 11%). day on social media than boys (11% versus 5%).
Another study from the University of Cardiff in Wales found that over a third of teens wake up in the middle of the night to check social media every week. 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 was also correlated with lower levels of self-reported feelings of well-being and happiness.