Research analyzing over 200,000 teens across Europe and North America highlights gender-specific impacts of social media on adolescent sleep patterns.

Summary: University of Queensland researchers found that intense social media use is linked to sleep difficulties among adolescents, with a study of over 212,000 teenagers from Europe and North America. Girls are more affected than boys, experiencing greater sleep initiation issues. The study suggests that the bright screens and emotional excitement from social media disrupt sleep by affecting melatonin secretion. Recommendations include creating a sleep-friendly environment and limiting social media use before bedtime to improve sleep health and mitigate gender-specific impacts.

Key Takeaways: 

  • The University of Queensland study analyzed responses from 212,613 teenagers across 40 European and North American countries, focusing on the link between intense social media use and sleep difficulties.
  • Girls who experienced problematic social media use had a higher likelihood of facing sleep initiation troubles, resulting in shorter sleep durations and poorer sleep quality compared to boys.
  • The research suggests that exposure to bright screens from social media can disrupt melatonin secretion, affecting the body’s ability to fall asleep, and highlights the need for interventions that consider gender differences.

University of Queensland research has shown intense and problematic social media use is linked to sleep difficulties in adolescents, with girls being more affected than boys.

The research is published in the Journal of Adolescence.  

Associate professor Asad Khan, PhD, from University of Queensland’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences analyzed the responses of 212,613 teenagers from 40 European and North American countries in the 2017-2018 Health Behaviour in School-aged Children survey.

“We looked at the relationship between intense and problematic social media use and the sleep difficulties of boys and girls aged 11 to 15,” Khan says in a release. “Intense or frequent social media use can delay bedtimes, lead to shorter sleep duration and poor sleep quality. Some of these impacts are due to the exposure to bright screens, which disrupts melatonin secretion and hinders the body’s ability to initiate sleep.”

Problematic use is when the time spent on social media begins to interfere with other areas of life and causes emotional and cognitive excitement which interferes with the natural process of falling asleep.

Gender Differences in Impact

Khan says girls who experienced problematic social media use had greater odds of having trouble falling asleep, which can lead to shorter sleep duration and/or poorer sleep quality, than boys.

“This suggests girls may be more vulnerable to sleep difficulties caused by social media exposure,” he says in a release. “It highlights the importance of considering gender as a relevant factor when designing interventions. To ensure adolescents are getting the best sleep possible, create a sleep-friendly environment, establish a consistent bedtime routine, ensure a device-free bedroom at night, and limit social media use right before bed.”

The University of Queensland study highlighted that a fear of missing out triggered by the constant availability of social media and notifications could lead to increased nighttime awakenings to check and then difficulties falling back asleep.

Khan says it is important that adolescents and their caregivers understand the impact excessive use of social media could have on overall health and well-being.

“Social media has many benefits including providing people with positive ways to connect with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures and sharing ideas and experiences,” Khan says in a release. “However, when social media use affects sleep health, there can be poor mental health outcomes.”

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