Don’t let poor sleep ruin your life

Can social media use affect our sleep?

How many of us would admit to taking our phone to bed and scrolling through Facebook/Insta/Twitter before falling asleep? For lots of people, young and old, it’s now the norm to sleep with a mobile phone in our bedroom12.

Polls have shown that browsing social media is now one of the most common pre-sleep activities, between going to bed and falling sleep. While it might feel relaxing to lie in bed and check a newsfeed, the reality is that this constant connectivity can have major negative effects on our sleep.

The rise of social media

In 2012, only 5% of adults were using social media; this had shot up to nearly 70% at the last count (2018) and it is even higher in younger adults, at 90%3.

There’s also been huge increases in how long we spend on social media: amongst 16-64 year olds, average time spent has been creeping up, from 90 minutes per day in 2012, to now being about two and a half hours per day4. This equates to around 1/6th of our waking hours!

So what happens when staying connected continues into bedtime? Read on to see how your bedtime social media habits might be stopping you from getting a good night’s sleep.

Mobiles and melatonin: how looking at your phone can affect your sleep

It’s well-established that looking at phone screens can impact sleep. Mobiles emit mostly blue light, and these wavelengths are particularly good at keeping us productive and focussed, so perfectly suited for daytime phone usage.

At night-time, however, this is not ideal. At its simplest, exposure to light tells us to be awake, so looking at a bright light from a phone just before bed is telling your body it is still time to be awake and not sleep time.

In the hours leading up to bedtime, as natural light levels decrease, our brains start to produce a hormone called melatonin, which causes our alertness to begin to dip. It signals to our bodies to wind down and prepare for sleep.

The blue light emitted by mobile phones affects your melatonin levels more than any other wavelength does. It signals to your brain that it is daylight, melatonin production is suppressed and sleep becomes delayed5.

Without melatonin signalling to us that we are sleepy, we remain awake and alert, in a state of ‘cognitive arousal’.

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Cognitive arousal: getting wound up when you should be winding down!

When you go to bed, your brain is preparing for sleep, but by looking at social media, you are providing endless stimulation, signalling to your brain and body to remain active and keep engaged.

It’s not simply the fact that you’re looking at social media which keeps you awake, the type of content has a big impact too.

How it affects you emotionally (for example, after viewing a sad video), socially (a group chat on WhatsApp) and cognitively (reading content that gets you thinking) are all very important in determining the knock-on effects it has on sleep67.

Passively scrolling through a newsfeed before turning off has less repercussions on your sleep than engaging in, for example, a heated debate on a subject you’re passionate about.

Similarly, photo-sharing platforms (generally more passive participation) will have less impact on sleep than those which actively engage their users to respond, such as messaging sites8.

This comes down to how much involvement the interaction calls for. Looking at photos can be done quite serenely. Debating global politics is going to call for a more involved interaction.

The take home from this is that if you must use social media before bed, try to avoid areas that will stimulate you and demand high levels of engagement.

Delayed bedtime: time spent surfing should be spent snoozing

How many times have you thought you’d just quickly check your social media account before going to sleep, only to find yourself falling down a rabbit hole of entertaining videos, photos, funny comments, chatting with friends, reading newsfeeds…? And just like that, an hour or even two have passed.

When we finally put down our phones, it also takes us longer to fall asleep, the quality of sleep is reduced and you wake up feeling sleepy and unrefreshed9.

Your bedtime has been displaced and additionally, you’ve lost some valuable sleep time, so your sleep duration will generally be shorter. Sleep displacement by social media is well-recognised amongst adolescents, and recent studies are beginning to show similar effects across adult age groups, too.

For people still in education, who have early start times, this is a particularly bad combination. For adults, this often leads to later wake-up times and has a knock-on effect on time available to complete tasks over the coming day58.

Fear of missing out (FOMO)

A study from 2012 found that young people spend 54% of their internet time on social media10. In teenagers, the fear of missing out (FOMO) and social disapproval are driving forces in the use of social media at night time. If you’re not connected, then you’re missing out; everybody else is online, so why are you not?9.

Studies are starting to show similar results in adults; FOMO is definitely not unique to teenagers8.

Sadly, FOMO can feel like a no-win situation: you log off, but feel guilty because you’re no longer responding immediately, you can lose sleep worrying about what you’re missing and what people will think of you for not being available.

Or, you stay online and your sleep is compromised, you’re setting yourself up for anxiety, poor focus and increased risk of depression.

There is no need to feel like you have to be available 24/7; we need to move away from these ways of thinking. Logging off or taking a break is totally fine. The bottom line is simple: we all need to sleep.

Denying yourself sleep in order to appear constantly online is just sabotaging your own well-being. Sleep deprivation can negatively affect your health in so many different ways.

If you feel like you are struggling to disconnect and your sleep is being compromised, the team at Sleepstation can provide you with the tools you need to get a good night’s sleep.

Disturbed sleep: alerted by all those alerts

When you do eventually fall asleep, this isn’t the end of social media’s hold on your brain. Message alerts, notifications, texts, updates…

In our eagerness to appear always available and connected, we often further jeopardise our sleep by keeping our phone within grasp, on vibrate or unmuted.

Plus, once sleep has been disturbed by an alert, we often remain awake thinking about and anticipating further beeps and pings, which leads to fragmented sleep.

The best way to avoid this is to turn your phone off, put it on airplane mode or leave it on silent. Keeping it out of the bedroom at night would be ideal, but if this feels like a step too far, leave it on the far side of the room, as far away from your bed as possible.

A chicken looking at an egg

The chicken and the egg: insomnia and social media

It’s the middle of the night, you find yourself unable to sleep, so you reach for your phone and check your social media accounts. It’s an easy distraction from whatever is keeping you from sleeping, but then you find you can’t disengage, so you keep scrolling, you become more alert, so you can’t sleep. It’s a vicious cycle.

Studies in adults have revealed this as an interesting difference between the effects of bedtime social media usage in children and adults11. Research is now underway to examine the relationship between insomnia and social media use, and two important questions are being proposed:

  • Does night-time social media use cause insomnia? Or,
  • Do people with insomnia use social media to cope with their sleep problems?12

This angle is now being examined in greater depth, so for some, night-time social media usage may actually be their way of coping with a sleep problem, as opposed to a causing factor.

Positive steps you can take

Social media has many good points; it connects people, can bring friends and families closer together, it informs us and is entertaining.

What we all need to be mindful of is how often and at what times we connect. Social media usage around bedtime can have major repercussions for your sleep.

Reducing exposure to social media can help you to disconnect and may improve your sleep quality. Ideally, aim to wind-down your usage in the 2 hours before bedtime, but at a minimum, at least 30 minutes before bed.

Instead of scrolling through your phone, screen-free time will help prepare you for sleep. Maybe read a book, relax, take a bath, listen to music. Try whatever works to relax you, without involving looking at a screen.

If possible, keep your phone out of your bedroom at night! Buy a cheap alarm clock and leave your phone on charge in another room.

If you’re struggling to sleep and you think that your social media usage may be to blame, then speak to us at Sleepstation. We can work with you to find the root cause of your sleep issues and we’ll help you to improve your bedtime sleep habits.

Key points

  • Social media usage around bedtime can negatively effect how long and how well you sleep.
  • Looking at social media in bed can make it harder for you to fall asleep.
  • It can also reduce the amount of time you sleep for and leave you feeling unrefreshed the next day.
  • Try to limit (or stop) social media use a couple of hours before bedtime, in order to allow your body to wind down and prepare for sleep.
  • If possible, keep your mobile phone out of the bedroom-easier said than done!

References


  • Woods, H. C. and Scott, H. (2016) #Sleepyteens: social media use in adolescence is associated with poor sleep quality, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Journal of Adolescence, 51, pp. 41-49.

  • Lenhart, A., Ling, R., Campbell, S., & Purcell, K. (2010). Teens and Mobile Phones. Pew Research Center.

  • Perrin A (2015). Social Networking Usage: 2005-2015. Pew Research Center.

  • Clement J (2020) Daily social media usage worldwide 2012-2019. Published by J. Clement, Feb 26, fromhttps://www.statista.com/statistics/433871/daily-social-media-usage-worldwide/

  • Bhat S, Pinto-Zipp G, Upadhyay H, Polos PG. (2018) “To sleep, perchance to tweet”: in-bed electronic social media use and its associations with insomnia, daytime sleepiness, mood, and sleep duration in adults (2018) Sleep Health. Apr;4(2):166-173. Jan 17.

  • Woods, H. C. and Scott, H. (2019) Understanding Links Between Social Media Use, Sleep and Mental Health: Recent Progress and Current Challenges Current Sleep Medicine Reports volume 5, pages141–149

  • Van der Schuur WA, Baumgartner SE, Sumter SR (2019) Social Media Use, Social Media Stress, and Sleep: Examining Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Relationships in Adolescents. Health Commun. May;34(5):552-559.

  • Levenson JC, Shensa A, Sidani JE, Colditz JB, Primack BA. (2016) The association between social media use and sleep disturbance among young adults. Prev Med. Apr;85:36-41

  • Scott H, Biello SM and Woods HC (2019). Identifying drivers for bedtime social media use despite sleep costs: The adolescent perspective. Sleep Health Volume 5, Issue 6, Pages 539–545

  • (Thompson SH & Lougheed E, (2012) Frazzled by Facebook? An Exploratory Study of Gender Differences in Social Network Communication among Undergraduate Men and Wome. College Student Journal, v46 n1 p88-98 Mar/

  • Exelmans, L., Van den Bulck, J. (2016). Bedtime Mobile Phone use and Sleep in Adults. Social Science and Medicine 148, pp.93-101.

  • Tavernier R, Willoughby T. (2014) Sleep problems: predictor or outcome of media use among emerging adults at university? J Sleep Res. 2014 Aug;23(4):389-96.

Further information