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Sleep, social media and mental health: Western U researchers look for links

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Researchers out of Western University in London, Ont., are trying to find out exactly how social media and sleep impact mental health, particularly among young people.

While the interplay between sleep, social media, and mental health has not been confirmed and “warrants further study,” two recently published papers are starting to shed light on how complex the relationship is.

Read more: Why social media is a ‘missed opportunity’ as coronavirus spreads among young people

“There is quite a large body of evidence linking poor sleep with adverse health outcomes, especially among adults,” Dr. Saverio Stranges, chair of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics, told Global News.

However, the evidence among younger people, especially people like adolescents facing critical life transitions, is much more limited.”

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One of the studies, which analyzed data from the Canadian National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, found that adolescents who experience difficulties sleeping are at higher risk of developing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

In particular, girls between the ages of 12 and 15 with persistent difficulties sleeping experienced higher rates of anxiety and depression.

“When present, these symptoms can persist into young adulthood and negatively impact relationships, quality of life and employment,” said Stranges.

Read more: What is ‘COVID-somnia’? Why some can’t sleep during the pandemic

In another study, associate professor Kelly Anderson looked at previously published studies and reportedly found significant associations between excessive social media use and poor mental health outcomes, as well as between poor sleep quality and negative mental health.

“They are likely all part of a larger process that are feeding back to each other. So, if you aren’t sleeping well, you are probably going to use social media more often, which is going to impact your mental health, which impacts your sleep and so on.”

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Junayd Hussain, one of the contributing authors, says it’s the link between the three that “really interested us.”

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“Based on our research, it seemed as though at least part of the negative effects that social media use has on mental health may act through sleep disturbances.”

Read more: Weighted blankets are trendy, but will they help your child fall asleep?

The researchers say the studies highlight the need for public health initiatives to promote sleep hygiene.

Stranges said that, in terms of public health campaigns, there has been much attention paid to the importance of diet and physical activity and the impacts of smoking and alcohol consumption, but he doesn’t believe sleep hygiene gets the same amount of attention.

“Good sleep habits should be really promoted in the very early stage because otherwise, you know, this may translate to long-term adverse health outcomes. And I think is important also from a public health perspective that we pay more attention to the way we sleep.”

Researchers say one way to promote good sleep hygiene is to limit screen time before bed.

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