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Teens missing vital sleep before school due to social media

Teenagers who use social media for three hours or more a day struggle to get to sleep before 11 on school nights, new data reveals.

A survey of nearly 12,000 adolescents found that “very high” users of sites such as Facebook and Instagram were 70 per cent more likely to fall asleep late.

The study by Glasgow University is the first in-depth analysis to tease out the impact on sleep from social media and messaging apps, rather than from screen time more broadly.

The results suggest teenagers are developing “emotional connections” with the sites themselves which leave them “vigilant” for incoming messages and alerts all night.

Published in the BMJ Open, the study compared the social media use of 13 to 15-year-olds with the time they typically fell asleep and woke up on school days and free days.

The research also included how long it took participants to fall asleep and the difficulties they faced getting back to sleep after waking during the night.

Just over a third of the teens said they spent less than one hour a day on social media so were classed as low users, while 31.6 per cent said they spent one to three hours a day on it, and were classed as average users.

Of the remainder, just under 14 per cent were high users – three to five hours a day – and around one in five were very high users, more than five hours a day. 

Very high social media users were roughly 70 per cent more likely to fall asleep after 11 pm on school days and after midnight on free days than were average users. 

Both high and very high social media users were also more likely to say they woke later – after 8 am – on school days than average users, and very high users were more likely to say they had trouble getting back  to sleep after waking during the night.  

Girls tended to spend more time on social media than boys, and to report poorer sleep quality.

“These findings are consistent with the idea that social media displaces sleep: either directly or indirectly,” the authors wrote.

“Direct sleep displacement may be particularly likely on school days, especially for very high users, since limited social media access during school hours means that at least part of this daily time on social media is likely to take place close to bedtime.” 

They recommended switching on “do not disturb” before falling asleep.

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