Study links social media, sleep troubles

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Study links social media, sleep troubles

Cheyenne Cohen | Staff Illustrator

Cheyenne Cohen | Staff Illustrator

Cheyenne Cohen | Staff Illustrator

Cheyenne Cohen | Staff Illustrator

By Josh Ye / Staff Writer

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With fewer and fewer hours until she has to be up and studying, Emily Jones often lies awake in bed, scrolling through her phone instead of counting sheep.

“Sometimes, when I have trouble falling asleep, instead of reading a book or something to make myself tired, I go on social media,” Jones, a sophomore pre-pharmacy student at Pitt, said.

But a new Pitt study has linked young people’s late-night social media sessions to sleep disturbance.

While the study does not claim frequent social media use causes sleep disturbance, Pitt health researchers, Jessica Levenson, Ariel Shensa, Jaime Sidani, Jason Colditz and Brian Primack, found a relationship between social media use and sleep troubles.

The study, published online in Preventive Medicine in January, sampled 1,788 U.S. adults ages 19 through 32 and found consistent, substantial and progressive associations between social media use and sleep disturbance.

Researchers looked at social media usage data from the Pew Internet Research Questionnaire and sleep disturbance data from the Patient Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System sleep disturbance measure. The data examined how often young adults used social media, and for how long.

Those who spend more than 61 minutes on social media or have more than 30 visits per week have a greater chance of experiencing sleep disturbance than others, according to the study, which the National Institutes of Health funded.

Researchers asked the 1,788 person sample how often they go and how much time they spend on the 11 most popular social media platforms: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn. According to the study, participants averaged 61 minutes on social media every day and 30 visits every week.

To assess sleep disturbance, the study used four items from the Patient Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System, a measurement system the NIH runs, which assessed problems with sleep, difficulty falling asleep, whether sleep was refreshing and sleep quality over the past week.

Levenson warned against drawing a causal relationship between social media use and sleep disturbance.

“This study is not designed to determine whether social media use contributes to sleep disturbance or whether sleep disturbance contributes to social media use. It just shows that there is an association,” Levenson, the lead author and a postdoctoral researcher from the Department of Psychiatry, said.

“This is a very introductory analysis related to [the relationship between social media use and sleep quality],” Brian Primack, assistant vice chancellor for research on health and society at Pitt and a senior author on the study, said.

But, Primack speculated, the study suggested that social media use may also directly cause disturbed sleep. Primack said too much time on social media may lead to less sleep for users. Users are also emotionally, cognitively and physiologically aroused by social media, which leads to trouble in falling asleep. And, lastly, Primack said bright electronic light may disturb sleep quality.

“Devices emit blue lights. And blue side of the spectrum is early morning light, and it signals to parts of our brain that it’s time to wake up,” Primack said.

Primack also said people who struggle to fall asleep, such as Jones, tend to try, give up and then go back to social media.

“It could be a vicious cycle in which we have a society so full of stimulation. Everything gets so quiet at night, and sometimes people get anxiety at that time. One way to try to relieve that anxiety is by going back to that stimulation,” Primack said.

Primack said people go on social media to feel less alone, but one of the long-term health consequences for constant stimulation could be disturbed and insufficient sleep.

Levenson said the study will be beneficial because most American adults are not getting enough sleep. According to a 2013 Gallup poll, 40 percent of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep per night on weeknights, which is less than the recommended amount by the Centers for Disease Control.

Hannah Brown, a first-year rehabilitation science major, said she experiences sleeplessness herself several times per week.

“Sometimes I want to go to bed, but then I end up going on social media. Then I end up spending a couple hours on it,” Brown said.

Primack said though the results of this study may seem obvious to some, they enable researchers to look at more subtleties in future studies.

“The next step is really to drill down more and understand more deeply about what specific context of social media or types of social media might be more concerning than others,” Primack said.

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