Researchers develop tool to measure impact of late night social scrolling on teens’ sleep | #socialmedia | #children


Researchers from the University of Glasgow have developed a tool designed to more accurately measure teens’ ability to dissociate from social media before bed.

The Index of Nighttime Offline Distress (iNOD) is thought to be the first psychological measurement tool of its kind, with researchers hoping it will help society unravel how today’s youth interact with each other online.

The iNOD is the latest output from the #sleepyteens research group – a faction of the university’s School of Psychology dedicated to exploring the relationship between screen time and sleep. It takes the form of a 10-point questionnaire informed by a consultation with more than 3,000 teens. The aim is for findings to equip clinicians, teachers and parents with accurate insight into the affects of late night social scrolling.

The development process of iNOD is outlined in a paper published in the Sleep Medicine research journal.

The group’s previous studies have shown that young people who use social media for five or more hours a day are more likely to report problems relating to quality of sleep.

Dr Holly Scott, lecturer and lead author of the paper, commented on the findings: “It’s not unusual to hear parents and teachers expressing concern about the amount of time that young people spend on their mobile phones, sometimes even using pathologising words like ‘addiction’ to describe their behaviour.

“However,” she said, “that concern overlooks how important friendships are to adolescent brains.”


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Dr Scott explained that as young people become more autonomous and less dependent on their families, staying in touch with friends and maintaining a feeling of connection becomes increasingly important. In this respect, phones and social media platforms become invaluable tools, giving them the ability to extend the feeling of face-to-face connection regardless of time or location.

“The aim is to get a truer sense of the trade-offs young people make between social connections and night-time social media use, and to draw a clearer demarcation of the points where it can begin to impact young people’s sleep” – Dr Holly Scott

“In developing iNOD, we set out to create a measurement system which was built from the ground up to reflect the real-life experiences and opinions of modern young people. The aim is to get a truer sense of the trade-offs young people make between social connections and night-time social media use, and to draw a clearer demarcation of the points where it can begin to impact young people’s sleep.”

Image source: Tracy Le Blanc/Pexels

Between September 2018 and March 2019, the #sleepyteens psychologists gathered data from 3,008 young people between 10 and 18 years old, using an online survey to explore how they use social media at night. It asked them a series of questions about their social habits and quality of sleep – covering topics such as their fear of missing out on social interactions via social media platforms, and their emotional connection to their preferred platforms.

On top of this, participants were quizzed about how long they spent on social media in bed, how long it took them to get to sleep after putting down their phones, and how good their sleep was overall.

While a large portion of respondents claimed they did not find it hard to disengage from social media, the responses also showed that extended ‘wakefulness’ in bed before attempts to sleep was also a common experience for many. Those who generally did spend longer on socials at bedtime were also more likely to experience delayed sleep onset, short sleep duration and poor quality of sleep.

These findings helped to shape the 10-point iNOD questionnaire, which allows teens to self-report their experience of social media and sleep. The two main factors respondents feedback on include ‘staying connected’ to peers via socials, and ‘following etiquette’ by continuing interactions into the night.

Those who scored higher on both primary factors tended to get into bed later and took longer to close their eyes for sleep, but did not differ in their wake times. They also tended to use social media for longer in bed and after the time they felt they should be asleep, with shorter sleep duration and poorer quality of rest.

‘Staying connected’ showed stronger associations with bedtime social habits and sleep measures than ‘following etiquette’.

“Young people need quality sleep, but they also need the interactions with peers that social media provides, especially during a pandemic” – Dr Heather Cleland Woods

“Much of the previous research on adolescent use of social media has focused solely on the amount of time young people spent in front of screens, without considering why they choose to do so. iNOD provides a tool to understand adolescent thoughts and feelings about staying connected and following etiquette, a valuable insight which was not previously measurable,” said Dr Heather Cleland Woods, senior lecturer, leader of the #sleepyteens project and co-author of the paper.

“Young people need quality sleep, but they also need the interactions with peers that social media provides, especially during a pandemic. Our aim is that iNOD will be widely adopted as a tool to help parents, teachers and other adults with caring responsibilities have informed conversations with young people and each other about device use and sleep.

“We’ve already done some work with government to help develop better evidence-based policy for young people,” added Dr Woods, “and we’re keen to explore further how iNOD can be integrated into high-level understanding of the lives and concerns of today’s young people.”


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