“Hi, my name is Annalise, and I’m addicted to social media.”
If Social Media Addicts Anonymous existed, it’s fair to say that I’d be a card-carrying member. I don't mean to be dramatic, but it’s true—for me and most of my generation. Like so many other twenty-somethings, I have an unhealthy obsession with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.
Scrolling through my newsfeed has just become a habit. I’ll find myself lurking the Instagram page of someone I barely know while watching Downton Abbey—I don’t even care about where my college roommate’s ex-boyfriend ate dinner last week, and yet, somehow I’m more captivated by that than the last season of a TV show I really enjoy.
What’s even more unsettling is that I’m not alone. New findings published in the journal Preventative Medicine found that, on average, young adults (ages 19 to 32) spend more than an hour a day on social media, and checked their accounts at least 30 times per week.
But how problematic is this obsession with our online lives? The study’s authors learned that what could be cast off as just mildly irritating behavior is often linked to more serious consequences, such as the sleep disturbances that affected nearly a third of the participants. Social media use is also often tied to increased anxiety.
Though the study didn’t delve into exactly how social media behavior impacts sleep, in a press release, lead author Jessica Levenson highlighted what she called “obsessive 'checking' behavior” as the likely suspect. In other words, it’s the constant checking in that’s the issue, rather than total hours logged on social media.
Personally, the obsessive behavior itself is just as disconcerting as any occasional insomnia I’ve experienced. Luckily, I’m not the first—and I won’t be the last—to deal with this problem, and experts have suggested plenty of strategies for cutting back on social media. If you just can’t ignore those constant push notifications, it might be worth checking out one or more of these steps.
1. Physically remove yourself from your phone
The simplest way to stop yourself from checking your phone? Move it out of reach. Before bed, plug in your phone to charge outside of the bedroom. This way, you won’t be tempted to take a peek at those notifications just one more time. Research has also shown that the blue-white light that screens emit can interfere with your natural sleep cycle—so it’s probably best to keep screens out of sight after dark.
An added bonus: If you use your phone as an alarm, this will also prevent you from hitting snooze in the morning, since you’ll have to get out of bed to silence it.
2. Read before bed
Studies back up what parents have known for generations: Creating a bedtime ritual all but guarantees that young children will fall asleep easier and stay asleep longer. And a nighttime routine doesn’t have to involve a warm glass of milk and nursery rhymes to be effective. Our recommendation? Reading. Snuggle up with a book, turn the lights down low, and allow the words to lull you to sleep. It’s much more enjoyable than scrolling through Facebook, and research has shown that reading can also reduce stress and keep your brain sharp. If you use an e-reader, experts recommend turning the brightness down to keep it from messing with your sleep.
3. Try knitting or crocheting
If you want to try a new hobby—something other than Facebook stalking—might we suggest knitting or crafting? According to one study, 81 percent of people feel happier after knitting, and crafty projects can help you cope with anxiety, boost memory, and even reduce chronic pain. Both are easy to do when you’re catching up on your favorite shows, and way more satisfying than scrolling through your Twitter feed during commercial breaks.
4. Challenge yourself to a digital detox
If the idea of going without your phone for a few hours stresses you out, you might want to consider a digital detox. In addition to restoring your sanity, going without electronics for a few hours or a few days can improve your posture, help with memory function, benefit your sleep cycle, and even strengthen your friendships.
Scared by the idea of powering down for days at a time? Start small, and plan a few activities that will prevent you from using your phone. Go to the movies, and actually listen to the announcement asking you to switch off all electronic devices. Take a hike and leave your phone in the car. You’ll be more apt to notice the health benefits, and you just might experience a shift in how you interact with the world around you.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho