How Social Media Could Be Sabotaging Your Sleep

Tossing and turning? A new study suggests your social feeds might be to blame. 

Photo by Tim Robberts/Getty Images

The days of reading a book in bed have begun to give way to the endless scroll that is our favorite social media feeds. But now a new study published online and scheduled for the April issue of the journal Preventive Medicine offers a compelling reason to put. the. phone. down—and not just at bedtime. 

Young adults who spend countless hours on social media during the day or check in frequently throughout the week were more likely to experience sleep problems, according to the research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

Study authors analyzed questionnaires about the top 11 social media platforms in 2014 (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine, and LinkedIn) from 1,788 U.S. adults ages 19 through 32. On average, study participants spent a total of 61 minutes per day on social media and accessed their various social media accounts 30 times per week. 

Nearly 30 percent of participants reported high levels of sleep disturbance. Perhaps even more telling? The young adults who reported the highest levels of social media use on a daily basis were twice as likely to experience sleep problems and those who spent the most time on social media throughout the week were three times more likely to have problems sleeping. 

“This is one of the first pieces of evidence that social media use really can impact your sleep,” lead author Jessica C. Levenson, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in Pitt’s Department of Psychiatry, said in a statement. "[The findings] may indicate that frequency of social media visits is a better predictor of sleep difficulty than overall time spent on social media.” 

Senior study author Brian A. Primack, M.D., Ph.D., assistant vice chancellor for health and society in Pitt’s Schools of the Health Sciences, says it's still unclear whether social media use contributes to sleep disturbance or whether sleep disturbance contributes to social media use (or both): “Difficulty sleeping may lead to increased use of social media, which may in turn lead to more problems sleeping. This cycle may be particularly problematic with social media because many forms involve interactive screen time that is stimulating and rewarding and, therefore, potentially detrimental to sleep.”

Need a little help shaking your smartphone addiction? Here, eight simple ways to break free from social media