Free Press Journal

People are losing sleep over social media, quite literally


Social media and mobile phone addiction is playing havoc to our lifestyle, even affecting our sleep patterns. BOSHIKA GUPTA delves into the problem

Many people find themselves tossing and turning at odd hours in the night counting sheep in their heads. They’re most definitely not alone. Nocturnal woes for many may be closely connected to their mobile screens, work habits and heavy social media addictions.

Research in the past including a 2016 study by doctors at Bengaluru-based National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) has indicated that constant exposure to services like WhatsApp and Facebook directly affects sleep patterns and delays sleep by at least 100 minutes every day. The study also concluded that people ended up waking up later than usual and compulsively checked their phones or tablets at least four times after hitting the sack.

Several underlying factors at work

It is significant to note that our sleep patterns are closely related to many factors such as light exposure (during the day and night), physical activity during the day, stress levels, what we eat and drink, medical conditions and more. Something as simple as participating in a heavy workout right before sleeping may make a person feel unusually alert, making it relatively difficult to drift off to sleep.

Speaking of light exposure, professionals like android developers face even more pressure than others since their jobs require them to work with devices a lot more than usual. Aditya Kulkarni from Unity Hire, a company that works on gaming and simulation projects shares that as game and app designers, they end up using behavioural psychology in their projects more than most people realise.

Dopamine bursts lead to happiness. While they show up when a person eats great food, has sex or exercises, technology has a sneaky role to play as well. “Ironically, a lot of people are on digital because it’s easier to feel connected here than in the real world. Dopamine also gets released when you redeem loyalty and reward points, achieve something inside a game or an app, and receive validation from strangers on a social network. It’s addictive. The solution is to stop relying on these external factors to feel worthy and define your own internal purpose of happiness,” Kulkarni says.

Unhealthy habits

Things get really tricky when the lines between technology and non-digital activities get blurred. Checking notifications during the day on phones feels almost necessary, it’s a need. Almost everyone will catch themselves thinking about someone’s latest Instagram update or the number of likes they’ve received for their latest setof pictures at some point.

As crazy or absurd as this may sound, someone’s update may even cause anxiety and lead to stress that can easily be avoided. It is important to note that what people post on social media is essentially a pretty picture, a curated version of their lives that doesn’t showcase reality completely.

Everyone’s at risk

Clinical psychologist Dr Seema Hingorrany explains that the problem is a lot more deeply-rooted than most people realise. This isn’t just an adult problem. She said that a lot of her patients are young and find themselves struggling to sleep which is a scary prospect.

Picture this: Roman is a 14-year-old, for example, who loves Snapchat and spends most of the day playing games on his phone and texting his friends. Sometimes, he finds himself waking up at night for no reason at all and reaching for his phone to distract himself. What he is really doing is making things worse for himself as he is hooked to a device again, distracted by thoughts of countless updates late at night.

A fine balance

The bottom-line is that it’s essential to strike a healthy balance instead of letting one aspect control everything else. Saurabh Gupta, founder and CEO of digital marketing agency, Phonethics, feels that sticking to devices not only has a negative impact on sleep habits, it also shows up in other ways.

Creativity takes a serious hit, he explains, and most professionals are reduced to answering scores of e-mails. His employees even tried to briefly stay away from all devices for a short period at work every day in order to focus and not get swayed by technology.

Kulkarni uses apps like Twilight on his devices and f.lux for the desktop to apply light filters and dim his screen which really helps. Hingorrany advises her patients to start disconnecting from all their devices for an hour or so every day. It’s okay to slip up in the beginning. Things get better in just a few months.

Act Smart

The advantages of staying away from technology for a bit are many: More peace, a calmer mind, not as many distractions in our lives, less clutter in our heads and yes, a lot more sleep.

“Tech is a part of our daily lives now, and I think we need to start more fundamental, need based thinking than ever before. We need to use tech to augment parts of our lives for the better rather than let it define us, all for the purpose of using the latest tech to lift up our imaginary social status or look cool in front of total strangers,” Kulkarni signs off.