Student Well-Being

Adolescents’ Nighttime Social Media Use Linked to Poor Sleep

By Marva Hinton — February 15, 2017 3 min read
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Most would say getting a good night’s sleep is critical to success at school. But a new study argues that social media and the lack of proper bedtime routines are making it increasingly difficult for students to get the sleep they need to thrive and even function at all in the classroom.

The study entitled, “Sleepless in school? The Social Dimensions of Young People’s Bedtime Rest and Routines,” was published last month in the Journal of Youth Studies.

The researchers studied 850 young people who were divided into two cohorts of adolescents ages 12-13 and 14-15. The students were participating in a larger longitudinal study and were asked to fill out a questionnaire about their sleep habits. Their parents were also invited to participate.

About a third of all the students surveyed said they almost always go to school feeling tired, while another third said they go to school feeling tired at least once a week.

The survey indicated that 1 in 5 adolescents routinely wakes up during the night to engage with social media sites. These students are three times more likely than their peers who don’t interrupt their sleep to log on to these sites to feel constantly tired at school .

“It’s not surprising because if your sleep is disrupted and you’re not getting enough sleep, then you’re going to have the consequences the next day of feeling tired or not feeling well,” said Lisa Meltzer, an associate professor of pediatrics at National Jewish Health. “Young people who are waking up at night to check their phones or their tablets are interrupting their sleep, and that can make functioning more difficult.”

Meltzer was not involved with this study, which took place in Wales, but she has studied and written extensively about adolescent sleep disruption.

The study found that girls were more likely to wake up during the night and check social media sites than boys. This was particularly true among students in the younger cohort. Twenty-six percent of 12-to-13-year-old girls reported always waking during the night to check their phones or tablets for messages, while only 17 percent of boys reported the same. The study also found that family income played a role in students’ use of social media at night. Students who were eligible for free school meals were less likely to have these technologically based sleep disruptions than their more-affluent peers, but these students were more likely to report feeling tired during the school day. The researchers noted that these students were less likely to have stable bedtime routines, which may help account for their fatigue at school. In Wales, free school meals function similarly to free and reduced lunch in the United States as a social program to help children from low-income families.

Sleep Routines

In addition to looking at the impact of social media on sleep disruption, the researchers also examined students’ regular bedtime routines. The researchers’ key questions centered on whether or not these routines were in place. So students were asked if they went to bed at the same time each night and if they got up for school at the same time each day. Perhaps not surprisingly students with regular bedtimes reported going to bed earlier than those without them. Nearly 60 percent of 14-and 15-year-olds who reported always having a regular bedtime said they went to bed before 11 p.m., while only 11 percent of those who said they never have a regular bedtime reported the same.

“Having a consistent bedtime and wake time will ensure that children are getting enough sleep, which then ensures their best success at school and in daytime functioning,” said Meltzer. “There is plenty of research showing that parent-set bedtimes lead to better outcomes for youth. In particular, adolescents who continue to have parent-set bedtimes have lower rates of mental health concerns, depression, suicidal risks.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.