Study: Frequent social media use disrupts sleep, physical activity in teen girls
MelissaJenco, News Content Editor
Cyberbullying and lack of sleep and physical activity may be to blame for the ties
between social media use and poor mental health and well-being in teen girls, researchers
They studied nearly 10,000 adolescents in England over three years starting in 2013
when participants were 13 or 14 years old. The teens were asked about frequency of
social media use, their psychological health, cyberbullying, sleep, physical activity
By the third year, 69% of boys and 75% of girls were very frequent social media users,
defined as multiple times per day, according to the study published Tuesday in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.
About 28% of girls who used social media very frequently reported psychological distress
compared to 20% of those using it weekly or less. The most frequent users also had
lower life satisfaction and happiness and greater anxiety. Researchers found that
cyberbullying and reduced sleep and physical activity play a significant role in explaining
“Our results suggest that social media itself doesn’t cause harm, but that frequent
use may disrupt activities that have a positive impact on mental health such as sleeping
and exercising, while increasing exposure of young people to harmful content, particularly
the negative experience of cyber-bullying,” lead author Russell Viner, Ph.D., M.B.B.S.,
M.Phil., said in a news release.
Among teen boys, about 15% of very frequent social media users reported psychological
distress compared to 10% of the least frequent users. Cyberbullying, sleep and physical
activity played a significantly smaller role than for girls. There were no significant
links between boys’ very frequent social media use and their life satisfaction, happiness
“The clear sex differences we discovered could simply be attributed to girls accessing
social media more frequently than boys, or to the fact that girls had higher levels
of anxiety to begin with,” co-author Dasha Nicholls, M.D., said in a news release.
“Cyberbullying may be more prevalent among girls, or it may be more closely associated
with stress in girls than in boys.”
Authors said additional study would be needed to determine why social media is linked
to psychological distress in boys but said the causes likely are indirect as they
are for girls. They also stressed the importance of ensuring teens get enough sleep
and physical activity.
In a related commentary, Ann DeSmet, Ph.D., echoed that sentiment, saying “if the displacement of healthy
lifestyles and cyberbullying can be attenuated, the positive effects of social media
use, such as encouraging social interactions, can be endorsed.” She also called for
multifaceted school programs to promote mental health.
“This Article shows that sleep, cyberbullying, and physical activity are important
lifestyle mediators to target in protecting and improving youth mental health,” she