Lack of Sleep From Social Media Affects Mental Health More Than the Actual Apps Do


Sep 12, 2019


It is widely known that the use of social media affects mental health, but a new, three-year study has found that it is the lack of sleep from its use and the psychological distress caused by cyberbullying via the platforms that are the main reasons affecting one’s state of mind, more than use of the actual apps.

“While we obsess a lot about social media, how much do we obsess about how much our young people sleep? Not very much – but it is a more important factor, actually, in determining their mental health,” Professor Russell Viner, a co-author of the study, from the University College London, Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, told The Guardian.

For the study published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, more than 12,000 teenagers between ages 13 and 16 in England were interviewed.

When in Grade 9, they were asked how often they checked social media sites, such as Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter, each day but not how long they spent using them. Researchers found that 51% of girls and 43% of boys used social media more than thrice a day, which by Grade 11 rose to 75% of girls and 69% of boys.

When in Grade 10, the same students answered a questionnaire about their mental health and their experiences of cyberbullying, sleep and physical activity. In Grade 11, these students were asked about their levels of happiness and how anxious or satisfied they were with their lives.

Researchers found that girls and boys who checked social media sites more than thrice a day had poorer mental health and greater psychological distress. Girls who were checking social media also reported to be less happy and more anxious; however, boys didn’t report the same feelings. In girls, the researchers said, the negative effects were due to disrupted sleep, cyberbullying and to some extent, lack of exercise.

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In boys, the same three factors — disrupted sleep, cyberbullying, lack of exercise — had an effect too, but it was much smaller.

Dr. Dasha Nicholls, from Imperial College London, who was also involved in the study added, “It’s not the amount of social media, per se, it’s when it displaces real-life contact and activities. It’s about getting a balance.”

One way to achieve this balance, Dr. Nicholls said, is for parents to keep phones out of children’s bedrooms. This would help teenagers get at least 10 hours of sleep. And along with keeping a check on their social media use, parents also need to make sure that children are not accessing toxic content, especially at night, she added.

“Cyberbullying is important; we need to be asking about it and addressing it,” she said. In cyberbullying, even your bed is not a safe place. And if your phone is downstairs, you can’t be bullied in your bed.”


Written By Anubhuti Matta

Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she’s busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.


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