Just picture this scene. It’s getting late, you’re tired. You leave the couch and climb into bed. Your head hits the pillow. You struggle to keep your eyes open. What do you do? Probably you take your phone and open Instagram. Am I right?
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. According to research commissioned by Vita Health Group, a healthcare provider, 50% of British adults use social media apps in bed before sleeping at least once a week or more, with 27% admitting it’s a daily habit. These numbers then increase for millennials and Gen Z. Over half (56%) of those aged 18-24 confirmed that they social media every night before sleeping.
These statistics alone are not particularly new (or newsworthy, for that matter). However, what many of us might not realise is the fact that those little habits like scrolling Instagram before bed might be having a much larger impact on our mental health. When comparing these numbers to how much time do Brits dedicate to reflection, things get interesting.
Three quarters (75%) of adults do not consider it necessary to reflect on their feelings and emotions day-to-day. In addition, nearly a third (31%) say they do not put any time aside to consider what they are feeling, rising to 45% for those aged 65 and over. When it then comes to those aged 18-24, so the one who consumes more social media at night, the researchers found that 76% of them said they put no time aside to reflect on their feelings and emotions.
While of course the direct correlation between the two findings is not defined, Vita Health Group posited that the figures went some way to proving that we’re using social media to avoid feeling and emotions in real life. Vita Health Group’s Head of Ergonomics and Wellbeing, Tom Bivins, has warned that frequent use of social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at bedtime is leaving young people with little or no time to reflect on their feelings and emotions. “Night-time is often the first time we are left alone with our own thoughts without distraction. Whilst this might come as a welcome relief to some, our research suggests that young people are widely turning to social media before sleeping and this could be an attempt to push negative or uncomfortable thoughts out of mind.”
The relation between mental health and social media has always been the center of many debates. But now more than ever, mental health has become a real buzzword. And for good reasons. The pandemic has indeed taken a devastating toll on young people’s mental well-being. According to a report from The Prince’s Trust Tesco Youth Index, one in four young people (26%) admit they feel "unable to cope with life" since the start of the pandemic, increasing to 40% among those not in work, education or training (NEETs). Half of 16 to 25-year-olds say their mental health has worsened since the start of the pandemic.
In recent years, psychologists have begun to examine the effects of social media on mental well-being, and a consistent finding in much of this research is that heavy use of social media is associated with worse mental health. The World Health Organization has listed depression as the leading cause of health problems and disabilities. A research, published by the American Psychological Association, takes into account data on the US population over a long period of time (from 2005 to 2017), and shows a high increase in mood disorders and suicides in that period among adolescents and young adults. Coincidentally, the greatest spike in symptoms occurred in 2011, around the same time social media bursts onto the scene.
To make matters worse, a recent study on more than a thousand people aged 18-30, published by Frontiers in Psychiatry, suggests that social media addiction is on the increase. 39% of those surveyed had symptoms such as losing control over how long they spend on their phone and feelings of distress when they couldn’t access it. Most notably here, more than two-thirds of the addicts had trouble sleeping, too.
It's understandable that this past year, with the pandemic and all the stresses and emotions people are dealing with, the easiest thing to do to distract oneself was turning to social media and not thinking about anything. However, as Tom Bivins says: “The danger of scrambling for a distraction is that emotional avoidance is only a temporary fix.” He says he’s “concerned” about the lack of time and effort youngsters are dedicating to reflecting on their feelings on a daily basis. “Constant use of emotional avoidance tactics like scrolling social media can be detrimental to mental and physical wellbeing”
Confronting your emotions and letting yourself unwind properly before bed can, on the opposite, have lasting, positive effects. He continues: “Taking a little time each day to engage in self-reflection can be really beneficial. It can help people to process their thoughts and feelings, and offers the opportunity to put things into perspective. This is particularly relevant for all of us right now given the impact of the pandemic, especially when life can feel repetitive and challenging.”
Written by Paige Trimbly