How Social Media Affects Your Sleep

8 min read

Last Modified 16 November 2021 First Added 16 November 2021

By Nat Took

There’s no denying the rise of social media has changed all our lives. With more and more social media platforms available we’re able to connect with people all over the globe, at any time of the day. We’re all so connected now. It may seem like a good thing, being able to connect to anyone at any time, but being “switched on” all the time can have negative impacts. In fact, you can become addicted to social media, which is a problem in itself. But even if you don’t have a full-blown addiction, putting your phone down can be difficult. And this can lead to social media having an effect on your sleep.

The Effects of Social Media on Sleep

Initial research has shown that social media usage can have a negative effect on sleep, for a variety of reasons. Social media can affect mental health, sleep hygiene and more — all of which can harm your sleep and make falling to sleep harder or disturb your sleep.

Social media can also increase the likelihood of insomnia. If you find it hard to sleep, grabbing your phone and having a “quick” scroll can often lead to you being unable to put it down, causing you stay awake for longer. It quickly becomes a vicious cycle. Research is in the early phases but the key questions being explored: does the use of social media at night causes insomnia? And do people with insomnia use social media to cope?

Social media usage is a worry for young people too. As many as 45% say that they are online “almost constantly”. This is very much a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s great that young people can share their feelings and receive support through social platforms. On the other hand, research suggests that spending a lot of time on social media increases the risk of mental health issues. And as well as having an impact on insomnia, the effect of social media on sleep is also linked to increased symptoms of depression.

How social media can stop you sleeping

So how does social media have these negative effects on sleep and mental health? There are a few ways that being on your phone or tablet can stop you from sleeping, which in turn can affect your mental health and vice versa. Here are a few ways that social media can affect your sleep:

1. Interrupts your sleep routine

Even if you have the best bedtime routine, grabbing that phone to check your social media can throw it all out. Just think about how many times you’ve gone to “quickly check” something on social media, only to find yourself still scrolling an hour later.

Because you’ve interrupted your sleep routine, you’ve woken up again. You’ve displaced your routine and lost some sleep time, so you’re likely going to be tired in the morning too, which can have a knock-on effect on your coming day and getting to sleep the next night.

Related: How Less Than 8 Hours Sleep Can Put You into Fight or Flight Mode

2. Blue light negatively impacts sleep

We all know that blue light can keep you awake, and we all know that screens emit this light. Whether you are looking at your phone or a laptop at night, both will be emitting blue light which can make sleep difficult.

Blue light stops your body from producing melatonin. This is a hormone that your body starts producing when natural light reduces during the evening. Blue light stops this hormone from being produced, which stops you from getting sleepy.

Related: Is Tech Ruining Your Sleep?

3. Stimulation

On a similar note, looking at social media before bed can stimulate your brain, causing what is known as cognitive arousal. Social media is a stimulant and it provides endless stimulation as you keep scrolling, signalling to your body and brain to stay active and not wind down for sleep.

And it’s not just the fact that you’re scrolling that causes your brain to stay awake, what you are looking at also has an effect. You can easily trigger a strong emotion if you see something you are passionate about. If you’re engaged with a subject, this is likely to stimulate you more than just passively scrolling.

4. Disturbed sleep

Even after you manage to fall asleep, social media can wake you back up again, disturbing your overall sleep. You can get notifications at any time, so your phone starts pinging and vibrating, waking you up. What are the chances of you ignoring that? Chances are your phone is near the bed, so you grab it, take a look and you’re down the rabbit hole of social media again. You end up scrolling, or the person who has contacted you replies, stimulating your mind to wake up with emotions and blue light, making it harder to fall asleep again once you finally put your phone back down.

Related: Do We Really Need 8 Hours Sleep?

5. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

The fear of missing out is the reason you can’t turn off. It’s the reason when your phone pings and wakes you up, you grab it and have to respond. If you’re not connected, you feel like you’re missing out. The use of social media has been linked to poor sleep & “FOMO” in adolescents. Other studies are also showing similar results in adults; FOMO’s not just a youth problem.

How to reduce the effect of social media on sleep

So now you know why social media can have a negative impact on your sleep, what can you do about it? There are some simple steps you can take to combat the effect of social media:

1. Go “tech-free” with your bedtime routine

Although FOMO can make this very difficult, it’s important that you allow yourself the time to be disconnected, especially before and during sleep.

At the very least, you should be completely tech-free half an hour before bedtime, but ideally, this should be two hours. If FOMO makes this difficult, start at half an hour and build up to two hours. This will reduce the amount of blue light exposure and stop you from stimulating your brain.

Use this time to start winding down. Take a warm bath, read a book, listen to some music or maybe even try some bedtime yoga. Whatever you do, don’t look at a screen!

2. Turn off notifications

One way to stop social media from ruining your sleep is to turn off your notifications. That way once you get to sleep you’ll no longer be woken up in the middle of the night by someone liking your photo.

Once again, FOMO might make this a little difficult to begin with, but soon you won’t be reaching for your phone to check what’s going on. It may be that you simply turn your notifications off at night, or you could keep them off all day too.

If you want to still have your notifications on during the day, it could be easier to simply switch your phone to aeroplane mode. Though you will also need to make sure the Wi-Fi and data is off, so that nothing gets through. Also, when you start your bedtime routine, turn your phone to silent. If you’re worried you won’t be able to resist the temptation of looking at your phone, turn it off!

3. Leave your phone in another room

Out of sight, out of mind. When it comes to having your tech-free time before bed, put your phone elsewhere, and not in your bedroom. That way the temptation to look at your phone is reduced, and you won’t be disturbed by any notifications.

If you use your phone as an alarm in the morning, it’s time to go out and buy an alarm clock, that way there’s no excuse for having your phone in your bedroom.

4. Get support

If social media is ruining your sleep due to affecting your mental health, it’s important to get the help you need. Whether it’s FOMO, anxiety or depression, getting support can be the first step in overcoming your problems. If you’ve tried to cut back on social media before, but found it difficult, reaching out for support can also help with this. Talk to your doctor or start counselling if social media is having a big impact on your sleep, health and life.

When it comes to FOMO, being able to notice this can also help you overcome it. Talking to a counsellor can help you with being able to notice your FOMO and how to cope with it.

The NHS website has various resources for your mental health.

Social media and sleep summary

Overall, social media can have a negative impact on your sleep. This, in turn, can affect your overall health and wellbeing, so it’s important to take steps to combat these negative effects.

Love it or hate it, social media has become an ubiquitous part of everyday life, so it can be hard to switch off. Setting boundaries and getting support can make a huge difference. These steps can help you to turn off more often, allowing you to use social media on your own terms, instead of every time your phone buzzes.

Has social media stopped you from sleeping? How did you fix this? Let us know in the comments below!

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