Heavy texting affects sleep and creates stress, says study

Fear of missing a text can keep people awake during the night. (pic: istockphoto.com/idal)

Fear of missing a text can keep people awake during the night. (pic: istockphoto.com/idal)

Take a look round any train carriage, or indeed any social situation, and you’ll see how hard it is for people to put their mobile phones down. But this fear of missing out on a text, or even of misinterpreting what someone has texted, is ramping up stress levels and affecting people’s sleep.

Researchers from Washington and Lee University tested the effects of night-time testing on college students, the majority of whom would keep their phones beside their bed, or even under their pillows, so they could respond to texts during the night. They asked study participants to keep a sleep diary, and assessed results according to the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, which measures the amount of sleep, the number of disturbances, and how long it takes to fall asleep.

The Telegraph reports the study findings: the more texts a person sends, the worse the quality of sleep. Young people also become more stressed around their friendships, as the meaning  of text messages can sometimes be misconstrued. The moral of the story is not to carry out any conflict or arguments via text, but to take it face-to-face instead. And not to take your mobile phone to bed.

Is social media good or bad for your mental health?

Social media can offer a support network that doesn’t exist offline. (pic: istockphoto.com/zakokor)

There was a tweet doing the rounds recently that said: “Gym: full of people you see every day but never speak to. Twitter: people you never see but speak to every day.”

The tweet jokily sums up the role social media has come to play in our lives. But is your daily life on Twitter/ Facebook/Pinterest etc always so light-hearted?

This is a debate that mental health charity Mind put to the Twittersphere today. It asked: is #twittergood or #twitterbad for your mental health?, which understandably prompted a lot of responses from tweeters. Here’s my interpretation of the two sides of the debate:

Social media is ‘good’ when:

  • Connecting with someone who totally understands what you’re going through is a relief and a saviour. You feel you’re not the only one. It’s great to have that support network.
  • Finding information and resources you never knew about but could be helpful to you.
  • The anonymity of online ‘friends’ can help you become more open. Being honest about feelings can help you deal with and come to terms with them. 
  • The ‘social’ aspect of social media can make you feel less isolated. Interacting with someone online can give you a purpose, a joy, a sense of belonging.

Social media is ‘bad’ when:

  • The online world becomes a substitute for face-to-face interaction. Do you prefer the company of your virtual friends and feel you therefore don’t need to reach out to your ‘real-world’ friends?
  • It becomes an exposed forum for nasty comments. This mostly happens to people in the public eye, but the cloak of anonymity can make some people ‘braver’ in their criticisms. It can be tricky knowing how to deal with comments from people who don’t agree with you.
  • You feel the need to put on a ‘brave face’ when you least feel able to. The pressure to post photos and upbeat comments can be disheartening and exhausting and leave you out of touch with the authentic you.
  • It becomes an obsession. Constantly checking how many ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ you’ve How many people have responded. Relationships and friendships have broken down because someone needs to monitor their phone during meetings and social gatherings. Even during the night. The newly coined term for this is ‘social media anxiety disorder’. Check out: do you have the signs?

The counselling profession is working towards helping people with issues related to social media anxiety and online bullying, and is providing therapy online. Many people, used to interacting virtually, prefer the anonymity of e-counselling. The UKCP is setting up New Media in Psychotherapy Interest Group to explore how psychotherapists can best help people in the social media sphere. And for more of an insight, check out this overview of social media and online therapy in the BACP’s article on E-therapy, equality and access.