New research sheds light on teenagers’ use of social media, suggesting the pressure to be online 24 hours a day disrupts their sleep patterns and may lead to mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression.

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Researchers say the pressure for teenagers to be connected via social media 24 hours a day may impact sleep quality and lead to anxiety and depression.

The research team – including Dr. Heather Cleland Woods and Holly Scott from the University of Glasgow in the UK – recently presented their findings at The British Psychological Society (BPS) Developmental and Social Psychology Section Annual Conference in Manchester, UK.

To reach their findings, the team asked 467 teenagers ages 11-17 from a single school to complete a questionnaire.

The students were asked questions around self-esteem, anxiety, depression and sleep quality. They was also asked questions about their emotional investment in social media, such as “How many hours do you use social media on a typical day?” and “How long do you use social media after the time you intended to fall asleep?”

The team notes that a researcher was on hand if they needed support while answering these questions.

The social media platforms the teenagers reported using included Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, and Youtube, the team told Medical News Today.

The researchers found that teenagers who used social media and had high emotional investment in social media had poorer sleep quality, lower self-esteem and higher rates of anxiety and depression than teenagers who were less emotionally invested in social media.

Fast facts about anxiety
  • Anxiety disorders affect 1 in 8 children
  • Around 80% of children in the US have an anxiety disorder, and around 60% with depression are not getting treatment
  • Anxiety disorders often go hand in hand with depression, eating disorders and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Learn more about anxiety

The researchers found that this association was particularly strong for teenagers who used social media at night.

Explaining why this might be, Dr. Woods told MNT that “there is pressure to be available 24/7 and not responding to posts or texts immediately can increase anxiety. Also, [there is] anxiety around ‘missing out.'”

Commenting on the overall findings, Dr. Woods says:

“While overall social media use impacts on sleep quality, those who log on at night appear to be particularly affected. This may be mostly true of individuals who are highly emotionally invested. This means we have to think about how our kids use social media, in relation to time for switching off.”

To better understand the reasons for the link between social media use and wellbeing, the team says further research is required.

A Spotlight feature from MNT further investigates the impact social media may have on mental health and wellbeing.

Written by Jonathan Vernon