We’re living in a digital age when everything is shared, but should we be doing less scrolling and more sleeping?
Social media has changed the world in a thousand different ways. From communication to recommendations to sharing big news and getting global updates, the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more recently TikTok have given us a whole new way to ‘relax’.
However, studies show that scrolling through social media is anything but relaxing. In fact, too much social media is associated with higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression, so it’s no surprise that constant connectivity can also have a negative impact on how well we sleep.
The rise and rise of social media
It seems unbelievable that less than 10 years ago, only 5% of the entire adult population used social media. Flash forward a few years, and now almost three-quarters of adults are on the platform, including more than 90% of young adults.
Among 16-64 year olds, the amount of time we spend on social media has risen from 90 minutes a day in 2012 to more than two and a half hours per day now – around one sixth of our waking hours.
And all this scrolling is changing the way we sleep in several ways, not all of them good.
Media and melatonin
On a very surface level, looking at your smartphone before bed can be detrimental to your sleep quality because of the phone itself. Or, more specifically, your phone screen. Like laptops and televisions, smartphones emit blue light, which can inhibit your body’s natural release of sleep hormones like melatonin.
Melatonin production increases in darker environments, and the hormone itself is widely associated with helping you relax and unwind before bedtime. This puts you in a better frame of mind for a long, deep and valuable sleep.
By staring at your phone right up until the point your head hits the pillow (and sometimes after), you’re essentially blocking your brain’s melatonin supply, making it more difficult to relax.
Getting wound up instead of winding down
But the impact of social media goes deeper. Social media isn’t neutral or passive – it’s emotive. The content we see affects us cognitively (i.e. a sad video, a group chat and a thought-provoking post respectively). All of this keeps our brains wired and makes it much harder to unwind and switch off at the end of the day.
Scrolling through images and posts may feel like a passive activity, but you’re actually introducing your brain to a whole host of new information within a very short space of time. Depending on what this information is, it can have a significant (and often negative) cognitive impact.
Logging off is easier said than done, of course. Studies have shown that significant numbers of us (particularly teenagers) suffer from FOMO – or Fear of Missing Out – as a direct consequence of not responding to messages or engaging with content.
This can make social media feel like a lose–lose situation: stay logged on and risk negative consequences to your sleep, or log off and worry about what you’re missing.
However, it doesn’t have to be. Giving yourself regular breaks is just one way to reset your brain and avoid the pitfalls of staying constantly wired.
The key to better sleep
There are plenty of great things about social media, but like anything, it is best consumed in moderation. Setting yourself limits on your social media use will help you avoid some of the negative consequences associated with platforms like Instagram and Facebook.
Give yourself a curfew from social media – a time after which you say goodnight to the internet for the day. Get in the habit of doing something else in the run up to bedtime rather than scrolling through your phone, such as reading a book or engaging in meditation, as this will help you feel more relaxed as you fall asleep.
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