Researchers call for adolescents and families to receive social media and healthy sleep education as evening/night time screen use reduces sleep time leading to a negative impact on daily functioning and mood

In September 2018 researchers from France (a health network dedicated to the management of sleep disorders) published the results of their study to assess the effect of social media on adolescents’ sleep. They stated that an increasing number of adolescents suffer from sleep deprivation which is linked to obesity, poor academic performance and mood disorders. Under teacher supervision and with parental consent, the adolescents gave information on sleep and wake times, use of screens (computers, tablets, smartphones and video game consoles), and the use of social media via a questionnaire. Information on sleep quality, mood and daytime functioning was also collected. The adolescents were divided into those with sleep deprivation and those whose sleep time was in line with national guidelines (9 hours or more). A total of 776 questionnaires were analysed (64% girls, average age 12.5 years). Results showed that 98% of adolescents had internet access, 85% cell phones and 43% a personal computer in their bedrooms. Social media was used by 65%. Following dinner, 53% spent more than an hour and 15% more than 2 hours in front of a screen. After bedtime, 52% regularly used electronic devices, with 26% engaging in a screen-based activity (eg texts, social media, video games or television). During the night, 6% of adolescents woke up and played online video games, 15% to send texts and 11% to use social media. No significant difference was seen between girls and boys with respect to sleep duration, sleep quality, performance during the day or mood. Sleep deprivation during the week (6 hours or less) was less common in 11/12-year-olds (5%) when compared to the 14/15-year-olds (15%).  33% of sleep deprived adolescents reported taking over an hour to fall asleep whereas only 9% of those who met the recommended sleep guidelines reported the same problem. Sleep deprived adolescents were also more likely to report difficulties at getting up in the morning, and a need to fight sleepiness during the day with reduced energy. They were also more likely to experience irritability and feelings of sadness. A further analysis revealed a clear association between sleep deprivation and access to screens and social media. Sleep deprived students were more likely to have a computer (67% vs. 33%), cell phone (99% vs. 80%) and smart phone (85% vs. 66 %) in their bedroom. The researchers concluded that access to social media, and especially a cell phone, in adolescents’ bedrooms is associated with evening/night time use of screens leading to a reduction in sleep time which has a knock-on negative effect on daily functioning and mood which appears to get worse as they get older. Education about use of social media and sleep for adolescents needs to start early as modifications in sleep and evening/night time use of screens was present from 11-years-old. Parents should also be involved as setting parent-controlled bedtimes has been shown to lead to an increase in adolescent sleep time.

Royant-Parola S et al. The use of social media modifies teenagers’ sleep-related behavior. Encephale. 2018 Sep;44(4):321-328

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