Behaviour, Depression, Sleep Disorders, Mental Health | September 22, 2015 | Author: The Super Pharmacist
Good quality sleep is important for physical and mental health and allows the body to rest, repair itself, and process information that has been accumulated throughout the day. Conversely, poor quality sleep has established links to an increased risk of poor mental health outcomes, a weakened immune system, and greater incidence of conditions such as anxiety and depression. Good quality sleep is dependent on the right ‘sleep hygiene’ that ensures appropriate levels of noise, light and temperature in a room are present to provide the best conditions for the body to rest. Having regular eating, drinking and exercise routines also play an important role in regulating sleep, and improving the quality of rest. Whilst poor sleep has poor outcomes for many different groups, certain populations experience more problems with their sleep than others. Studies have shown that approximately 50% of elderly people experience disrupted sleep that had negative repercussions for both physical and mental health, as well as social functioning. Studies investigating the effect of insomnia, or prolonged poor sleep on mental health, have established its link to a significant risk of cardio-metabolic and neurocognitive morbidity and mortality (1). There is a growing research interest in the relationship between the use of social media, the internet, sleep, and mental health. Much of the research focus has been on younger generations who have higher than average levels of internet use, and a number of studies have identified high rates of internet addiction and pathological internet use in students of high school and university age. A qualitative study undertaken in the US, examining the internet/social media habits of a group of 27 students, found that students first accessed the internet at an average age of 9 and developed a problem with internet overuse at an average age of 16 (2). The same study also found high self-reported incidence of sadness and depression, boredom and stress that many participants considered the triggers for their internet misuse/overuse, and almost all members of the study group reported higher than average levels of sleep deprivation, academic underachievement, a decreased ability to concentrate, a lack of physical exercise, and social interaction. There are a number of additional studies that highlight the role that social media has in cutting the amount of quality sleep that children are getting. Although the link between a lack of sleep and poor mental health has long been well established, most research focusing on the use of social media and/or the internet use has largely been generated in the last five years. The link between media devices being left in bedrooms and poor sleep habits is well established (particularly in adolescent populations) (3). Whereas some of the earlier studies lacked longitudinal data that would allow conclusions to be drawn around the true nature of the relationship between sleep deprivation or excessive social media use – such as whether one leads to another, or which comes first (associative or causative) – more recent studies have indeed shown that poor sleep is a common prognostic factor for excessive internet use (4). However, this remains a contested issue, and a number of other studies argue that lack of sleep and excessive social media use does not have a clear pathway and that the relationship is actually of a ‘bi-directional nature’ and changes according to each individual (5). A body of literature is also currently developing that is concerned with the relationship between night-time internet use, disturbed sleep and media-use related light exposure (6). Another review of the current literature on internet use in adolescents, published in the Journal of Paediatrics, found that the average young person under 16 spent between 5-7 hours on the internet per day. The review also noted that while many young people had positive experiences online – such as connecting to others, developing new areas of interest, and receiving information about safe health practices – the review noted concerns about the effect of social media and the internet on sexual behaviour, high levels of obesity, and lower than average academic performance (7).
There is a growing body of evidence investigating the use of social media to undertake ‘cyberbullying’. Cyberbullying is defined as a form of violence expressed through electronic media, and its prevalence in a number of studies has been estimated at between 6-34% of the adolescent population who have been affected by it (8). A comprehensive study looking at both the perpetrators and victims of cyberbullying established higher than average emotional and psychosomatic problems, social difficulties, and involvement in pastoral care when compared to population groups over the same age not engaged in either of these activities. Further studies also established a link between cyberbullying and substance misuse, suicidal ideations, and severe depressive symptoms (9). As well as known links between social media and poor mental health, there is a growing body of literature examining the role of online interactions in helping people recover from acute periods of mental illness. A thematic analysis of patients making connections through Twitter as part of a mental health awareness campaign found that there were a number of self-identified positive relationships established via social media that helped individuals connect with other people affected by mental health issues and mental health professionals themselves (10). In this regard, there is a capacity for social media, as a health promotion or behavioural change tool, to be a positive influence in the lives of people who are looking to establish a group of peers with whom they have some shared experience. Available research shows that social media can be both a positive and negative influence on the physical and mental health of its users. With the rapid development of different forms of digital media, and more people living aspects of their lives online, how users experience social media and the different ways in which it can affect their mental health is likely to be an area of research that will attract much greater attention in the future.