Time spent watching television or using the internet before going to bed may not be as harmful as one might imagine. But, according to the findings of a recent study published in the Journal of Sleep Research by a University at Buffalo researcher, the link between media usage and sleep quality is complicated, with various elements that can either promote or interrupt a good night’s rest.
“We found that media use just prior to the onset of sleep is associated with an earlier bedtime and more total sleep time, as long as the duration of use is relatively short and you’re not multitasking, like texting or simultaneously scrolling social media,” says Lindsay Hahn, Ph.D., an assistant professor of communication in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences.
“Watching a streaming service or listening to a podcast before bed can serve as a passive, calming activity that improves aspects of your sleep.”
However, you must do it correctly, and effectively using media as a tool to promote sleep is dependent on sticking to clear rules. Hahn’s study was limited to television, radio, video games, and books.
“We intentionally looked only at what you might call ‘entertainment media,’” says Hahn, a co-author on the paper and an expert in media psychology and media effects.
“Despite social media getting a lot of attention both in research circles and in popular culture, American time-use surveys show that people still spend a lot of time with television, music, and books. Investigating their use remains important because we aren’t always using social media.”
Sleep deprivation may have an impact on both physical and mental health. However, according to Hahn, the previous study has shown inconsistent results; therefore, her team decided to investigate the media-sleep association using a different technique.
The study relied on a media diary to track usage as it happened. Hahn taught the 58 adult volunteers how to operate an electroencephalography (EEG) equipment; a non-invasive instrument used to assess electrical activity in the brain. The EEG provides a measurement of the quality and length of sleep.
In general, media usage one hour before bedtime was related to an earlier slumber and greater sleep, but the effects decreased as media length increased. Hahn’s team also discovered that being in bed during media usage was related to increased overall sleep time. Still, media use before bed did not affect the quantity of deep sleep or rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
After all, the truth seems to be in the specifics, and Hahn pointed out that sleep might be improved or harmed depending on the type of media utilized.
Another study, published in the journal Sleep Medicine, investigated social media effects on sleep quality. Thirty-two young people were enrolled to spend four nights in a sleep lab during the study.
The first night was set aside as an “adaptation night” to get patients used to sleep in the lab with EEG electrodes attached to their heads. For the other three nights, the subjects were given a neutral condition night, a “relax” experiment in which they were asked to use social media on a smartphone for 30 minutes, and a social media intervention in which they were asked to use social media on a smartphone for 30 minutes.
According to the study, using social media for 30 minutes before sleeping did not affect any sleep quality indicators compared to control settings. At night, the subjects listened to a 30-minute relaxation exercise; however, the researchers noticed significant improvements in objective and subjective sleep parameters.
According to the study, people who want to improve their sleep quality should avoid using social media and instead attempt pre-sleep relaxation or meditation. While brief social media use did not appear to affect sleep quality or length, it did seem to delay one’s sleep in the early stages, resulting in reduced overall sleep time throughout wake-up hours.
“Delaying bedtime due to prolonged media use might have additional impairing effects on sleep and on the duration of sleep going beyond the findings of this study, especially if we consider when wake-up times are externally determined by school hours or working schedules,” the social media sleep study concluded.
These two findings add to more extensive research published in 2018 by Andrew Przybylski of the University of Oxford, which focused on investigating children’s self-reported sleep and screen usage. When comparing those who generally avoid using the internet daily to those who spend 8 hours each day in front of a screen, the study showed a slight variation in overall sleep length.
“The findings suggest that the relationship between sleep and screen use in children is extremely modest,” Przybylski said. “Every hour of screen time was related to 3 to 8 fewer minutes of sleep a night.”
Pete Etchells, a psychology professor at Bath Spa University, was not involved in the above new studies but found the results “fascinating.” The findings confirm the complexities of digital media usage on sleep quality and serve as a timely reminder of the necessity for further extensive research into the numerous ways we use modern media.
While these studies suggest that screen usage does not harm sleep, other studies suggest the contrary. From media use promoting poor sleep quality to digital media consumption reducing total sleep time, it is obvious that science is striving to hold talks on this matter.
Source: University at Buffalo