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Social Media & Sleep: The Relationship Between Social Media & Sleep Problems

By: SleepScore Labs  |  September 7th, 2021

What was the last thing you did before falling asleep last night? If you’re like one of the 61% of Americans that fall asleep checking their phones, you may have a last fleeting image of sleepily looking at your smartphone before drifting off. But how does this seemingly trivial habit affect your sleep quality? Do you need to limit your smartphone use before bedtime? If so, how?  

Let’s find out. 

The impact of using smart devices at night 

Smart devices and social media apps keep us connected with the world. But sometimes, we get so attached to them that it can become difficult to disconnect from them at appropriate times, like bedtime. 

Some of us may not realize that using a smartphone at night can sabotage healthy sleep. And if you already struggle to get the required seven or more hours of sleep each night, adding bright screen time to your bedtime routine may not only make your efforts futile but contribute to more sleep issues. 

Here are three ways using your phone at night may disrupt your sleep quality. 

1. It may disrupt your circadian rhythm. 

Your circadian rhythm is your internal body clock that regulates your sleep-wake cycle and coordinates other physical, mental, and behavioral patterns that follow a 24-hour cycle (like eating habits, immune function, digestion, mood, cognition, daytime energy, hormone release). It tells your body when it should do what it should do. When it’s out of balance, many of the internal processes it coordinates start to fall apart. 

But what may put your body clock off balance? Studies show that the blue light from electronic devices, including your smartphone, may influence and disrupt the circadian rhythm. Nighttime exposure suppresses melatonin (the hormone that, in response to sundown, tells our body to wind down for sleep), making it difficult to fall asleep. This, in turn, affects the timing of our sleep-wake patterns and can even negatively impact daytime energy, potentially throwing you into a cycle of daytime sleepiness and nighttime alertness.  

There’s more: according to a 2014 study, blue-light exposure stimulates brain activity and alertness, which makes initiating sleep even more difficult.  

2. It takes up your sleep time. 

If you’ve ever falsely promised yourself just 10 more minutes of Instagram scrolling before going to bed, more often than not that 10 minutes will turn into an hour or more. 

According to a 2019 study published in the Journal of family medicine and primary care, adults who use their smart devices during bedtime have an increased chance of being poor sleepers. This habit generally affects their sleep quality, productivity, and health. Similarly, studies show an association between insufficient sleep and poor daytime functioning, moodiness, dehydration, impaired cognition, weakened immunity, and heart-related diseases. 

3. It keeps your brain on alert. 

The evening should be seen as the time to prepare your mind and body to wind down for restorative sleep. But, social media can make this close to impossible because they are designed to keep you engaged.  

Whether you’re not reacting with excitement or fury to a friend’s Facebook post or laughing at a meme that came across your feed, your brain is working like it’s still daytime and not getting the relaxation it needs to send you to dreamland.   

Social media content triggers a wide range of emotions that may stimulate your brain, making it difficult to fall asleep. This unavoidably means you’ll likely procrastinate sleep for later and miss out on good sleep for that night.  

Prevalence of social media use in the evening 

Many people spend most of their evenings using social media, most likely because it’s the only time they get a real break from work and other adulthood responsibilities.  

Statista tells us that 61% of adults use their phones at bedtime. Interestingly, a study on the prevalence of smartphone use at bedtime among medical staff found that more than 98% of participants owned a smartphone, and 92.4% used it at bedtime. Similarly, a 2018 study on 855 hospital employees and university students found that 70% of participants scroll on social media while in bed, with about 15% spending at least an hour on it. 

So, if you’re unable to resist the pull to check social media one last time before bed, know that there are simple and effective ways to build healthy nighttime habits and reduce social media use before bed.  

6 ways to manage social media use before bedtime  

Wondering how to break your nighttime attachment to social media and replace it with better sleep habits? Consider this your guide. 

  1. Establish evening winddown routines: Routines prime your body for a desired action or result. They help your body master habits that improve your wellbeing. The same goes for sleep habits. To have better sleep habits, consider creating practices that lead you to this goal. You could arrange these winding-down activities in the order that suits you: Take a warm shower, listen to relaxing music, brush your teeth, do your skincare regimen, enjoy light yoga, and any other relaxing activity that doesn’t involve your smart device. So instead of spending most of your evening time on your phone, you’ll be ticking off the evening time winddown activity list.   
  2. Limit screen time before bedtime: 2020 study suggests that restricting smartphone use before bedtime may help support healthy sleep by increasing time spent asleep and reducing nighttime alertness, making it easier to fall asleep. Plus, less screen time can translate to better mood and working memory. Experts suggest limiting any blue light exposure from screens to at least two hours before bedtime. You can also set app limits to block out apps that are most inviting during bedtime on your iPhone or Android settings.  
  3. Get blue-light filtering glassesBlue-light filtering glasses protect your eyes from blue-light exposure that impacts melatonin production and prevents your body from easing itself into sleepiness. Try getting one if staying away from your phone at night isn’t practical.  
  4. Get enough sunlight during the day: Exposing yourself to sunlight, especially in the early hours of the day, helps support circadian rhythm. When your circadian rhythm is in sync, your body can easily follow regular sleep-wake times. 
  5. Activate nighttime mode on your smart devices during the evening: Nighttime mode is available on smartphones, including your iPhone and Android devices. It may reduce how much blue light comes from them. The less blue light you expose yourself to, the less of an impact it may have on your Zzzs.  
  6. Make your bedroom a sleep haven: Design your bedroom in such a way that every time you step in it, sleep calls. Consider making it tidy, cool, dark, and quiet in the evening. And try to remove non-essential electronic devices from your room. It’s easier to fall asleep when your body familiarizes itself with the independent purpose of the bedroom—for getting refreshing and efficient sleep.  

Using your smart devices at night may seem like a harmless habit, but its impact on sleep quality and overall well-being cannot be overlooked. Having proper sleep hygiene by employing some of the ideas listed above may help you ditch social media, relax more effectively at night, and put you on the path to a great night’s sleep. So, the next time someone asks you if you had a good night’s rest, you wouldn’t hesitate to say ‘Yes!’.  

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