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December 15, 2022

Social media at night and students’ sleep health: What should we worry about?

Social media has been gradually becoming an ever-present phenomenon in the lives of university students. Associated with this online reality is not only the fear of being left out of socially relevant events and/or conversations (or, more specifically, of missing out on them) – but also the potential to use social media to cope with everyday life challenges and worries. How can using social media at night influence students' already diminished sleep quality? Is 'worry' a relevant cognitive process regarding this use? A Portuguese team of researchers recently explored these relationships and concluded that there is more to night-time social media than 'Fear of Missing Out' (FoMO).

University students and social media

Social media is an important part of establishing and maintaining relationships for university students. It is used to interact, connect and socialise. So much so that social media is now becoming a part of the students’ sleep routine. In fact, the use of social media at night while in bed (and even when trying to fall asleep) is becoming ever more prevalent. So, is using social media in bed good for sleep? What does research tell us?

Social media and sleep

Generally speaking, research shows that using social media at night contributes to unhealthy sleep patterns. Using social media at night has been shown to be associated with shorter sleep duration, poor sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, sleep deprivation and increased sleep latency. Adding to this issue, university students are among the most sleep-deprived demographic groups of the general population for a number of reasons.

Sleep is known to be a key process for optimal functioning and health, which raises the question regarding students’ motivation to use social media at night. Furthermore, what are the cognitive processes involved in choosing to use social media?

The extensive focus on FoMO

Throughout the past decade, research on social media has focused on FoMO as a cognitive predictor of social media use. FoMO can be defined as a general state of anxiety and apprehension regarding the possibility of either not taking part, or being included, in socially rewarding events of one’s social group. The use of social media has been typically seen as a maladaptive strategy to avoid experiencing negative emotions associated, for instance, with FoMO.

But previous research hadn’t considered the use of social media to cope with negative emotions associated with other adverse cognitive states, such as worry. Filipa Almeida and colleagues further explored the relationship between social media at night and sleep quality by exploring if other cognitive processes, such as worry, might motivate this use.

In their study, five hundred university students aged between 18 and 64 filled out questionnaires measuring sleep quality, diurnal type, cognitive pre-sleep arousal, FoMO, worry, rumination, and night-time screen and social media use. As hypothesised, both FoMO and worry predicted the use of social media at night, and night-time social media predicted poor sleep quality – independently of other relevant variables. After concluding that using social media at night might be an escape from worrying (and not just from Fear of Missing Out), what can students do about it? Is there a way around using social media?

The future of sleep interventions

Reducing the use of social media at night is probably not going to make worries go away. Tackling the cognitive processes behind the use of social media at night by finding healthier outlets and coping strategies will be key to improving university students’ sleep. Following what is already known about sleep and social media, new interventions have been progressively emerging, such as emotional awareness and FoMO-R.
Nonetheless, social media is an ever-changing reality. More than just worrying about its adverse effects on sleep, providers and researchers need a ‘hands-on-approach’ as knowledge evolves and new demands emerge.


Almeida, F, Marques, DR, Gomes, AA, (2022) A preliminary study on the association between social media at night and sleep quality: The relevance of FOMO, cognitive pre-sleep arousal, and maladaptive cognitive emotion regulation. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 1–10. [Accessed 14/12/2022].

Written By

Filipa Almeida
University of Coimbra

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