We use social media before bed to avoid our emotions, says new research

I don’t appreciate being called out like this.

by Roisin Lanigan
15 April 2021, 1:23pm

Has the past year (and counting) of tedious, socially isolated Hell got you hooked on spending hours every night in bed scrolling miscellaneous apps, just to avoid dealing with how you really feel? Well then hi friend, you’re not alone, at least according to this new research from British healthcare provider Vita Health Group.

The study found that for many of us, the use of social media apps before sleep has become less of an enjoyable way to unwind, and more a day habit or crutch to let us avoid real emotions, particularly for Gen Z. Over half (56%) of the 18-24 year olds studied by Vita Health Group said they used social media apps like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and TikTok every night before going to sleep. Their findings put this activity at a higher rate for young people than for older adults, with 50% overall saying they used social media apps before going asleep, and just 27% of those overall surveyed calling it a “daily habit”.

While that might not sound particularly newsworthy -- young people on their phones, stop the press! -- the real juicy (and pretty dark) findings of the study delved deeper into why we need them to sleep in the first place. Speaking to the same age group, the researchers found that over three quarters (76%) said they put no time aside to reflect on their feelings and emotions daily. 

While of course the direct correlation between the two findings is not defined, and it’s worth noting that the study’s sample size (2,000 British adults) was relatively small, Vita Health Group posited that the figures went some way to proving that we’re using social media to avoid feeling things IRL. Which is more convincing when you take a second to remember how many times you’ve written “NAH I’M SCREAMING LMAO” at a meme or a TikTok while lying on your side and staring blankly at a screen in total darkness and isolation.

Unpacking the results of the study, Tom Bivins, head of “ergonomics and wellbeing” at Vita said that our reliance on social media is leaving us with little time or inclination to reflect on our feelings, and that using these apps as a tactic of emotional avoidance is actively contributing to young peoples’ deteriorating mental health. “Night-time is often the first time we are left alone with our own thoughts without distraction,” Bivins says of the research. “Whilst this might come as a welcome relief to some, our research suggests that young people are widely turning to social media before sleeping and this could be an attempt to push negative or uncomfortable thoughts out of mind.”

The danger of using that emotional crutch or distraction, then, is that it’s only a temporary fix for a problem that’s more deeply rooted. “Not only will your body be using considerable effort to keep them quashed, but it is likely that the feelings you are avoiding will grow stronger, more intense, and uncontrollable over time,” Bivins goes on to say, adding that he’s “concerned” about the lack of time and effort Gen Z are dedicating to reflecting on their emotions and feelings on a daily basis.

“Constant use of emotional avoidance tactics like scrolling social media can be detrimental to mental and physical wellbeing. Preventative management techniques will help individuals break the cycle leaving them feeling more comfortable with their emotions and better able to achieve a restful sleep”.

Time to delete TikTok and reactivate that meditation app. Again.

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