April 12, 2024 5 min read

Social media has transformed many aspects of our lives, our bedtime routines being no exception. Instead of winding down in front of the TV, reading a book, or having a warm bath, many of us now scroll through our social media feeds before drifting off. 


And according to a survey by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, this habit may be getting in the way of good sleep [1]. Of the 2,010 adults surveyed, 80% said they stayed up past their bedtime using social media. Researchers are also raising concerns about nightly social media use among adolescents, claiming it can be detrimental to sleep [2].


Here’s more on the impact social media has on the quality of our sleep and why it may be so detrimental. 

Does Social Media Affect Sleep Quality?

Due to the ever-growing use of social media across the globe, researchers have been looking into how it may be affecting our sleep. There have been many studies so far on this subject and most found social media harms sleep.

A survey study on UAE university students published in theJournal of Public Health, for example,found that the majority were social media users and that a considerable proportion suffered from poor sleep [3]. 


Because adolescents make up the majority of social media users and because their brains are still developing, social media’s negative effects on their sleep and health can be particularly detrimental. According to a systematic review published inSleep Medicine Reviews, there’s a strong link between excessive social media use in adolescents and poor sleep [4]. The researchers also found a link between social media use in adolescents and poor mental health, which may or may not be due to it affecting their sleep.


But most of these studies relied on self-reports, which aren’t always accurate. 


There is one study, however, that was carried out in a sleep laboratory that investigated the impact of pre-sleep social media use [5]. What’s interesting is that its findings seem to contradict previous research. The study namely concluded that social media had little impact on bedtime arousal and sleep quality than previously expected. But it did confirm that social media kept users awake when they should be sleeping.

Why Social Media and Bedtime Don’t Mix

The quality of your sleep depends a lot on what you do before you go to bed. Scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter may be one of those bad habits you want to avoid at bedtime — just like you would avoid caffeine, heavy meals, and working late. But why is that so?

1. Blue Light 

Most digital devices emit blue light. Blue light is also known as high-energy visible (HEV) light and is a powerful and concentrated wavelength. While it can help us stay alert and focused — it’s not so good for your sleep.

Blue light affects your brain’s ability to secrete melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that regulates sleep. It’s secreted in response to darkness and other sleep cues.” Research shows that two hours of exposure to blue light in the evening suppresses melatonin production [6].


One way you could mitigate this problem is by activating bedtime or sleep mode on your smartphone and other devices. This reduces the amount of blue light emitted by your device, but it doesn’t completely eliminate it. 

2. Delayed Bedtime

As already mentioned, one of the biggest problems with social media use before bedtime is that it keeps us from falling asleep. The studies mentioned earlier all noted that social media use delayed bedtime by a couple of minutes to several hours. Adolescents were most likely to stay awake when they should be sleeping. 


But are all social media platforms the same in this regard? According to a survey by Sleep Doctor, most of the respondents used YouTube and Facebook in bed [7]. Facebook was most popular among short sleepers — defined as sleeping less than 7 hours at night. It’s also the leading platform among those who take 30 minutes to fall asleep, which is considered delayed sleep. 

3. Mental Arousal

Social media content is rarely relaxing. Instead, what’s usually posted is content that’s meant to draw your attention and provoke a reaction. Plus, it’s a way to stay connected with the people in your life, which can in itself keep you engaged. All these things make it harder for you to disengage and unwind at night.

Mental arousal was often cited in the aforementioned studies as one reason why social media can cause users to be sleep-deprived. 


Why We’re Addicted to Social Media


Like most addictive things, social media can also cause surges of dopamine that keep some of its users hooked to their screens. Teenagers are the most easily affected, explaining why sleep deprivation is most common among adolescent social media users. 


There’s also a modern phenomenon called Fear of missing out, or FOMO, for short is keeping people wide awake at night [8]. It’s a feeling of exclusion some feel when they’re disconnected from online communities. It’s more commonly experienced by adolescents, although this problem doesn’t discriminate by age.

For those deeply affected by FOMO, the urge to keep up with social media updates can be so strong that they ignore sleep cues and sacrifice sleep for the sake of feeling connected. 

Tips for Healthier Social Media Use

If you or a loved one need tips to help you manage your social media use and get enough, quality sleep, follow these tips: 


Try to limit screen time before bed

While it can be hard to break this habit, you could try making it a rule to avoid going online one to two hours before your scheduled bedtime. This will give your brain time to unwind and your melatonin levels to rise. 


Silence notifications

It’s ok to disconnect at certain times of the day, especially if your sleep seems to suffer. Silencing notifications will reduce the number of times you check your phone and, hopefully, allow your brain to relax. 


Model healthy social media behavior

Children learn by observing your behavior, so it will be easier to help limit their use of social media by starting first. For teens, it’s a good idea to establish rules on the appropriate amount of time spent online. 


References:

  1. AASM Sleep Prioritization Survey. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Published 2022.https://aasm.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/sleep-prioritization-survey-social-media.pdf

  1. Tandon A, Kaur P, Dhir A, Mäntymäki M. Sleepless due to social media? Investigating problematic sleep due to social media and social media sleep hygiene. Computers in Human Behavior. December 2020;113. 0747-5632,.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2020.106487

  1. Al Kazhali M, Shahwan M, Hassan N, Jairoun AA. Social media use is linked to poor sleep quality: The opportunities and challenges to support evidence-informed policymaking in the UAE. J Public Health (Oxf). 2023;45(1):124-133.doi:10.1093/pubmed/fdab372

  1. Combertaldi SL, Ort A, Cordi M, Fahr A, Rasch B. Pre-sleep social media use does not strongly disturb sleep: a sleep laboratory study in healthy young participants.Sleep Med. 2021;87:191-202.doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2021.09.009

  1. Tähkämö L, Partonen T, Pesonen AK. Systematic review of light exposure impact on human circadian rhythm.Chronobiol Int. 2019;36(2):151-170.doi:10.1080/07420528.2018.1527773

  1. Ladd M. Social Media Dominates Pre-Bedtime Routine for U.S. Adults, Survey Finds. Sleep Foundation. Updated June 6, 2023.https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/how-does-social-media-affect-sleep#references-196656

  1. Social Media Use and Sleep. Sleep Doctor. January 19, 2024.https://sleepdoctor.com/technology/social-media-and-sleep/



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