Scottish researchers have warned that spending more than three hours a day on social media can be detrimental to teenagers' sleep, in a study said to provide “meaningful evidence” for adolescent health and wellbeing.

The research, published in the journal BMJ Open, was carried out by the University of Glasgow and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, UK.

The researchers canvassed almost 12,000 teenagers aged between 13 and 15 years old, asking about their typical sleep habits and how much time they spent on social media or messaging apps like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp on a normal school day.

They found that those who spent a lot of time on social media — classed as between three and five hours each day — reported that they went to bed later, for example after 11pm on school nights, woke later, and had trouble getting back to sleep after waking in the night.

In contrast, low social media users (under an hour per day) were least likely to fall asleep late and wake up late, lending weight to the idea that social media displaces sleep.

This is a particular concern on school days, as late bedtimes then “predict poorer academic and emotional outcomes,” noted the authors.

Girls tended to spend more time on social media than boys and reported poorer sleep quality.

The findings, the researchers concluded, “provide rigorous and meaningful evidence to inform practice and policy to support healthy adolescent sleep and social media use.”

There is growing concern about the possible impact of screen time, and specifically social media use, on the mental health and wellbeing of young people.

Researchers have called for approaches that help young people “to balance online social interactions with an appropriate sleep schedule that allows sufficient sleep on school nights, with benefits for health and educational outcomes.”

Last reviewed 7 November 2019