New data from 4,500 students in grades five through eight exposes more troubling links between children’s social media use and sleep deprivation.


Summary: The Women’s Brain Health Initiative (WBHI) in Canada has uncovered more evidence linking children’s social media use to sleep deprivation, based on surveys from over 4,500 students in Toronto. These findings, part of the Brainable program, indicate a need for early intervention to address a growing health crisis among students, who recognize the negative impact of excessive screen time on sleep and brain health. WBHI calls for governmental action in public education and expanded access to educational programs to mitigate these trends and promote brain health from a young age.

Key Takeaways:

  • Over 4,500 students in greater Toronto participated in exit slip surveys following the Brainable program, revealing a link between social media use and sleep deprivation.
  • The majority of surveyed students, particularly in grades five to eight, acknowledged the need to adjust their screen time and sleep habits for better brain health.
  • WBHI is advocating for urgent public education campaigns, expansion of classroom programs like Brainable, and increased national investment in brain health research to address the issue.

Women’s Brain Health Initiative (WBHI), a Canadian charitable foundation, released new data that exposes more links between children’s social media use and sleep deprivation.

The data came from exit slip surveys from over 4,500 students in greater Toronto following their participation in Brainable, WBHI’s in-school program promoting the Six Pillars of Brain Health.

The survey results have been reviewed by Heidi Cramm, PhD, and Erna Snelgrove-Clarke, PhD, RN, of Queen’s University.

The majority of students in grades five to eight who completed the exit slip surveys acknowledged that they should be altering their screen time and/or sleep habits to improve their brain health. Grade eight responses suggest a growing awareness of the connection between more screen time and less sleep.

“These results tell us earlier intervention is required to reverse a rapidly emerging children’s health crisis,” says Lynn Posluns, WBHI president and CEO, in a release. “Despite being aware of the imperative to cut down on screen time and prioritize restorative sleep, an overwhelming number of students find themselves trapped in a relentless cycle they struggle to break. The situation is urgent and critical.”

Cramm adds in a release, “Screen time use, disrupted sleep, and reduced physical activity seem to be very enmeshed for students, even by grade five. By grade eight, students indicate an intention to change behaviors on multiple fronts, underscoring the complex challenges facing these children.  Awareness and education are critical elements in upstream approaches to promoting brain health.”

Students were surveyed during the 2022-23 school year as part of Brainable’s classroom program and invited to answer questions related to their brain health. 

“Social media and screens, in general, can be helpful tools if they are used correctly but too much screen time or bad influences on social media, for example, can harm a developing brain,” says Jade Crystal, Brainable program director, in a release.

Sleep, physical exercise, social interaction, healthy eating, mental exercise, and stress reduction represent the Six Pillars of Brain Health. All six pillars are integral to mental wellness and emphasized in WBHI’s free Brainable education program in Ontario geared to young students about how to protect their brain health.

Call for Governmental Action

In response to this new data and other recent public reports, WBHI is calling on federal and provincial governments to:

  • Urgently develop and initiate public education campaigns promoting the best reasons and ways to reduce excess screen time and increase sleep time for children, starting in preschool.
  • Like successful anti-tobacco campaigns, students and teachers should be included in developing public education themes and messages.
  • Expand access to classroom programs for students and teaching tools like Brainable to help reverse current trends and increase awareness of effective strategies to reduce excess screen time, increase sleep time, and promote physical activity.
  • Develop community and classroom programs with trusted partners for preschool families and kindergarten to grade four students that can disrupt these harmful screens and sleep-time trends.
  • Increase national investment in brain health research and education.

Researchers have illuminated sleep’s vital role in the development of adolescent brains. Sufficient sleep—nine to 11 hours each night for 10- to 14-year-olds—helps body systems restore and recover, protects healthy brain development, and facilitates learning and memory consolidation. Chronic sleep loss or poor quality can have profound consequences on regulating emotions, decision-making, controlling behavior, and being less resilient to stress. Addressing sleep issues early can reduce the risk of future mental health struggles. 

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