Social media networks are now seen as a significant distraction factor. Lots of people limit their presence there (and that of their children, too) to less than an hour per day. But are they really such a threat to one’s health?
The good news is that they aren’t if used wisely and within some reasonable limits. But the bad news is that binging on social media might affect our sleep habits and general health, and not for good.
Social Media and Circadian Rhythms
There are complex relations between gadgets as a whole, social media in particular and our circadian rhythms. The scientists are still doing their research to find out the mechanism that connects these things. But there are already proven phenomena, such as sleep deprivation connected with social media and social media-induced depressions and addictions.
Social media is a place of concentrated emotions. Lots of pages deliberately post heavily emotional content, and people on these platforms aren’t restricted with morals and politeness that govern us in real life. Some people can even worry about the popularity of their social profiles. Thankfully, their problems can be solved by review websites like Likes Finder. But the emotional impact of social media is still a problem.
The notorious saying “it’s the Internet, baby” doesn’t play well with our emotions. The stress and negative (or even highly positive, just overwhelming) feelings can cause anxiety or depression, and these states affect our sleeping habits a lot.
The Special Hormone - Melatonin
But the emotional factor isn’t the only one. Our brain knows when to go to sleep thanks to melatonin - a special hormone that is created in our body when our circadian rhythm enters the sleeping phase. When the level of melatonin in our blood is high enough, we fall asleep. But this hormone is also heavily dependent on the level of light registered by our eyes.
Humans, as a species, are mostly daily creatures. The “night owl” type is an anomaly, created by our evolution as sentinels, who guarded primordial tribes at night and shooed away night predators. But nowadays the artificial lights and the very schedule of modern life creates a situation when we only have our personal time, free of work, chores or whatever, late at night.
Our biological clock tells us to go to sleep, while our common sense says that we need to enjoy life after work and our melatonin bounces from “nearly enough” to “it’s still too light here” because of the light from our gadgets’ screens. We socialize and see the light at the time inappropriate for our primal biology, and that messes up our sleeping habits big time.
Social Media and Disturbed Sleep
The research conducted in 2014 showed a strong correlation between the time spent on social media networks and disturbed sleep. Among 1788 young people aged 19 to 32 was a linear relationship between social media use and sleep disturbance.
The frequency of logging into your Facebook or Instagram affects your emotional and mental state and therefore affects your health. Moreover, spending too much time on social media networks may create dependency. Reading the news feed may become a “soothing ritual” before a person goes to sleep; but instead of actually soothing the anxiety piles up and results in fractured night sleep, even more so if you are used to reading your feed during the night.
Nighttime and Blue Screens
Our brain sees social media as a gathering of fellow tribes people and activates the centres that are needed for socializing. Unfortunately, these parts of our brain require the most energy (for example, our “speech centre” requires almost the most effort and energy in comparison to any other part of the brain).
Our speech and reading, abstract thinking and empathy turn on and make us highly alert, which is the opposite of sleepiness. No wonder that even after finishing our reading, we still need an hour or two to cool down our brain and finally go to bed.
Social media are also the biggest time consumers amongst all the habits, except, possibly, smoking. We spend a lot of time watching the feed even after all the messages were answered. Minute after minute we lose several hours of our productive time and, as a result, we have to work late in the evening, going to sleep much later than we had to.
You're the One in Control
Social media networks aren’t evil by design. To improve the quality of your sleep, you may just limit their usage in the evening, several hours before sleep. Use the social media time trackers on your gadgets, set alarms or use only messengers, not news feeds. At first, it may be quite hard to adjust to the new social media habits, but if you really need to improve your sleeping routine, it will be totally worth it!
Evidence is mounting that the screen time/sleep deprivation correlation might affect children and teenagers even more than adults. The latest study comes from a high school junior who won the 2013 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for her research that discovered that adolescents who partook in more than 3.5 hours of screen time a day were more likely to suffer sleep deprivation than those with only two hours of screen time.
So, what should you do to reduce the effects of screen time at night to possibly stave off sleep deprivation? Reducing the brightness of your device can help, as well as using amber-colored glasses when watching a screen after the sun goes down.
The obvious answer is to resist watching too much TV or using your smartphone in the hour or two before bedtime. Find some other way to wind down, including reading a book—not on your tablet, but the 20th century way with pages and a bookmark. Not turning on your television or laptop right before bed will give your brain a rest, in more ways than one.
If you think it may be more than too much tv or computer time, contact Alaska Sleep Clinic for a free 10 minute phone consulation.