Causal link found between evening social media use and delayed sleep

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by Bob Yirka, Medical Xpress

Photo Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain

A team of psychiatrists from Duke University and Yale University have found what they believe to be a causal link between evening social media use and delayed sleep. In their study, reported in the journal Sleep Medicine, the group tracked social media use and delayed sleep patterns in 44,000 Reddit users.

Previous research has shown that exposure to blue light, such as that emitted by phones and tablet computers, can disrupt sleep because it interferes with the production of melatonin. In this new effort, researchers have found that posting to a social media site before normal bedtime can delay the time people go to sleep.

The team wondered if posting on social media might interfere with people’s normal sleep patterns, especially in the evening hours. To find out, they conducted an extensive analysis of data from social media site Reddit. Like other social media sites, Reddit allows users to post comments or links to content and comment on others’ posts.

In total, the research team analyzed 120 million posts from 44,000 users on the site over a 15-year period. They were able to identify what they considered to be normal bedtimes for frequent users of the site, allowing them to measure the impact of social media posts before a normal bedtime.

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The researchers found that a user who posted something on the site about an hour before their normal bedtime was also more likely to stay awake past their normal bedtime — on average, they stayed up one to three hours after posting normal bedtime awake went to sleep. And when they posted multiple times before their normal bedtime, they stayed up even longer.

The researchers suspect that a spike in dopamine levels due to anticipation of a reaction from other users on the site could make it harder for posters to relax and fall asleep. Previous research has shown that increases in dopamine levels contribute to mental activity and alertness, but this is not conducive to falling asleep.

More information: William U. Meyerson et al., The association between evening social media use and delayed sleep may be causal: Suggestive evidence from 120 million Reddit timestamps, Sleep Medicine (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.sleep.2023.04.021

Journal Information: Sleep Medicine

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