Across two new studies, CcaM researchers found that it’s not how much – but how – teens use media that matters when it comes to a good night's rest.
Parents and teachers often lament that media use is particularly problematic for adolescents’ sleep behaviors. While numerous studies show an association between media use and problematic sleep, the direction of this relationship is far less clear. Could it be that increased media use leads to disordered sleep? Or perhaps the reverse relationship or even a more complex relationship is present? Or perhaps they are not causally linked at all! CcaM researchers set out to answer the question across two studies.
In their first study, now available in Computers in Human Behavior, Winneke van der Schuur and her CcaM colleagues sought to understand the relationship between media use – particularly media multitasking – and teens' sleep. Working with 1,443 adolescents (11-15 years old, 51% boys) at three time points, they found that media multitasking and sleep problems are associated cross-sectionally. In other words, adolescents who engaged in higher levels of media multitasking reported more sleep problems. But, there was no long-term relationship between these variables. Media multitasking was not related to an increase in subsequent sleep problems, nor were sleep problems related to subsequent media multitasking for the overall sample.
But why then is the concern about media use and sleep behaviors so great among t(w)eens? Is this simply a socially-produced concern or might there be more to the story?
To build on this work, van der Schuur and colleagues decided to further investigate this relationship in a second publication (now available in Health Communication). Here they asked whether it’s the type of use – not necessarily the amount of use – that might matter. In particular, they asked whether social media stress (i.e., experiencing stress when using social media) might be a key attribute to understand. And indeed, as they learned, it is!
In addition to showing that social media stress was positively related to t(w)eens’ sleep problems concurrently, they found a longitudinal relationship as well. Specifically, social media stress predicted sleep problems for adolescent girls. Thus, it seems that how adolescents perceive and cope with social media use matters more than how much they use it.