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Social Media use tied to Sleep Problems and Depression


An estimated 78 percent of Americans have a social network profile, up from 48 percent in 2010. There may be some negative consequences to all this social media use.

The more time young adults use social media, the more likely they are to experience sleep problems and to have symptoms of depression, according to new research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers looked at data on more than 1,700 U.S. adults ages 19 through 32, using questionnaires to determine social media use and established measurement tools to assess depression and sleep disturbances. They asked about 11 popular social media platforms: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn. On average, the participants visited social media accounts 30 times each week and used social media more than an hour a day.

Nearly 30 percent of the participants had high levels of sleep disturbance. People who checked social media more frequently or spent more time spent on social media were more likely to experience sleep problems than those checking less frequently or spending less time.

More than a quarter of participants were classified as having high indicators of depression. As with sleep problems, increased risk of depression was associated with both more frequent checking of social media and with more time spent on social media.

The authors emphasize that the research identifies a link, but not necessarily cause and effect. Social media use could contribute to sleep problems (for example, staying up late to post or disrupting sleep through exposure to the bright light of the screen), or sleep problems could contribute to increased social media use (for example, using social media to pass time when you can’t sleep). It’s also possible both could be occurring.

Similarly, people who are depressed could be turning more to social media or exposure to social media could contribute to depression. The authors suggest a few possibilities: seeing what appears to be ideal lives of others on social media could lead to envy and bad feelings about one’s own life; too much time on social media could lead to feeling of just “wasting time”; or time on social media could increase the risk of negative interactions or cyber-bulling.

While it is unclear exactly what causes and effects, or multiple types of interactions, are at play, this research may give reason to consider the potential positive and negative effects of our social media use. And to think twice about how much we’re using it.

Other researchers, however, are looking into ways that the smartphone devises we are all so attached to can be used to help diagnose and treat mental health conditions. See an upcoming blog post for more on this research.


  • Statista,
  • Lin L.y., et al. 2016. Association between Social Media Use and Depression Among U.S. Young Adults. Depression and Anxiety. Epub.
  • Levenson JC, et al. 2016. The association between social media use and sleep disturbance among young adults. Preventive Medicine, 85:36-41. Epub 2016 Jan 11.


AnxietySleep DisordersDepressionPatients and Families


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  • John Torous

    There are clearly risks and well of benefits to social media. Use of social media as related to mental health is a complex topic that we still have very little high quality data on. As this article points out, correlation does not equal causation, and making broad assumptions about social media and mental health is likely to prove unhelpful.


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