Teens Obsessed With Facebook May Struggle With Anxiety, Sleep Problems

"Are we raising a generation of kids that are not going to be able to get a quality night's sleep?"

09/14/2015 09:09 am ET | Updated Sep 15, 2015
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Here's a pretty good argument for taking some time to unplug from your social media accounts. 

A survey of teenagers found that those with the most emotional investment in their Facebook and Twitter profiles were more likely to sleep poorly and suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, according to the results of a survey presented Friday at a British Psychological Society conference.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow asked 467 adolescents about their social media practices and their "emotional investment" in social media, meaning how much pressure the teens felt to stay connected to their accounts. Additionally, the teens described their self-esteem and history of anxiety or depression. 

Studying how teenagers are affected by social media is particularly crucial, according to the researchers, because pubescent minds are particularly sensitive. "Adolescence is a period of increased vulnerability for the onset of depression and anxiety with poor sleep quality, prevalent in adolescence, suggested as a possible contributor," the study's authors wrote in an abstract. 

"It was a question that quite naturally came to me," Heather Cleland Woods, one of the authors of the report, told The Huffington Post. "I was interested in why people can't sleep, and one of the things that's in the media quite often is social media use." 

Indeed, previous studies have showed that logging lots of hours on screens, particularly around bedtime, can hurt your ability to get a good night's sleep. 

"It made me think, 'If we're all on social media and we have this 24-7 culture -- are we raising a generation of kids that are not going to be able to get a quality night's sleep?" said Cleland Woods, who studies sleep patterns in the psychology department at the University of Glasgow.

Not surprisingly, the teens who reported being most emotionally invested in social media and most likely to use social media at night were also more likely to report sleeping poorly. Investment in social media was also linked with lower self-esteem and higher levels of anxiety and depression.

Previous studies have linked heavy social media use to depression and other mental health issues, although other reports suggest that, overall, the Internet causes us to feel happier and more connected to people. 

As social media becomes a deeper part of how teens build friendships and relationships, more research is needed on how a culture of constant posting impacts developing minds. This study is just a small step, says Cleland Woods, who would like to look more specifically at how and when teens use social media and how that can influence their mental state. 

"We're not saying that Facebook and Twitter are bad, obviously," said Cleland Woods. "What we're saying is that we need to have a little bit more thought into how we use them -- because they are obviously affecting our well-being." 

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