Put The Phone Down, Study Finds Link Between Social Media And Poor Sleep

Feb 2, 2016

The study by Pitt's School of Medicine found a link between trouble sleeping and social media use.
Credit Jason Howie / Flickr

People who spend more than an hour a day, or 30 times per week, browsing through social media often don't get a good night's sleep.

A study from the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine found adults who use social media more have a greater likelihood of having sleep disturbances. Nearly 1,800 adults between the ages of 19 and 32 were surveyed on their levels of social media use and how often they had disturbed, or restless sleep. Researchers found 30 percent of participants had high levels of sleep disturbance.

“What we found is that greater social media use per day and greater frequency of checking social media-use sites were both associated with higher levels of sleep disturbance,” said Dr. Jessica Levenson, lead author and a post-doctoral researcher at Pitt’s Department of Psychiatry.

Researchers looked at the most popular forms of social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other sites, and found correlations between when they're using social media and how it affects their sleep. 

Overall, researchers found that on average young adults were looking at social media 30 times a week for about an hour a day. Those who reported using social media more times per week had more problems with sleep, having three-times the level of sleep disturbance than those who use social media less frequently. Those who used social media more often per-day had two-times the level of sleep disturbance.

Additionally, the study purported that when someone is having trouble sleeping, they are likely to turn to social media, again, as a means of distraction, which creates a problematic cycle of social media use and trouble sleeping.

Levenson said the exact cause of this link is still unknown.

“We don’t know if social media use is causing sleep disturbance or if sleep disturbance is causing social media use or both,” she said. “We could imagine that both could be true and certainly that there could be a lot of plausible reasons why, when you’re using more social media, you might not sleep as well, or as much.”

Levenson added that more research needs to be done to address a solution to the issue.

“I think, in terms of moving forward with a set of recommendations, we really need more information and more studies to understand the mechanisms potentially between sleep and social media use,” she said. “Doing that will really help us inform potential interventions, or health guidelines.”

Levenson said the data from this study was gathered as a part of a larger research project on health habits in young adults.

The study was funded through grants from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Cancer Institute.