Heavy Texting and Social Media are linked to Sleep Problems and poor performance for University students

I recently highlighted the high incidence of sleep disorders in adults, particularly women, and also wrote about the worrying problems that lack of sleep and snoring can cause in children – but what about young adults – particularly students going away from home for the first time?

Sleep deprivation has always been regarded as a major problem for those leaving home to go to College and University – as part of their transition to campus life. Now, a new study in the USA has identified another problem when it comes to students and sleep problems. In a word, it’s Texting.

Sleep Problems and poor performance

In a recent article it was reported that texting was a direct predictor of sleep problems among first-year students in a study that examined links between inter-personal stress, text messaging behaviour, and three indicators of college students’ health: burnout, sleep problems and emotional well-being.

Although the results of this study showed that the impact of texting on a student’s psychological well-being very much depended on the level of interpersonal stress they were already facing, more texting was associated with poorer sleep regardless of their previous level of stress.

The students in the study were all in their first year away from home and answered questions that measured academic and social burnout, emotional well-being, and sleep problems. They were also asked to estimate how many text messages they sent and received on an average day.

The study’s findings on sleep were especially significant given the well-documented compromises in sleep that students experience throughout their time in higher education, but especially in the first year. Several recent studies have shown that 70 per cent of college students receive less than the eight recommended hours of sleep. A recent survey concluded that “Only 40 per cent of students feel rested on two days of the week”.

To assess the students’ sleep quality, a ‘Sleep Quality Index’ was used to fit the college sample. It measured multiple aspects of sleep quality such as sleep duration, the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, the amount of time actually spent sleeping while in bed, night-time disturbances, and any daytime sleepiness.

The key finding was that the higher the number of daily texts – the higher the index of the student’s sleep problems. It is worth noting that this finding reinforces previous evidence pointing to a direct association between the use of mobile phones and poor sleep in adolescents and emerging adults.

Among the possible causes for this connection are two tendencies: students’ feeling pressured to respond immediately to texts, no matter what time of day or night, and students’ sleeping with the phone nearby, thus being awakened by the alerts from incoming texts. Initial conclusions are that heavy text messaging could be problematic during times of stress. Although speculative, it could be argued that texting is a uniquely unsuitable mode of communication for coping with interpersonal stress in close relationships.”

For instance, it is suggested that the abbreviated language that is common in texting — so-called “textese” — lacks the ability to provide the kind of nuance that is important in discussing sensitive issues. In addition, texting fails to offer critical non-verbal indications and hints that would be part of a face-to-face conversation. The Report stated that:

“Text messaging may carry a high risk of producing misunderstandings and unproductive interactions during periods of stress. When interpersonal stress involves conflict, the conditions required for productive communication may be particularly difficult to achieve through texting.”

To put it simply, as well as distracting students from restful sleep, leaving them tired the next day, texts can very easily be misunderstood, and cause more problems than they solve in a conversation.

Texting, Social Networking and other Media use has also been linked to poor academic performance in a US Report which says the widespread use of media among college students — from texting, to chatting on cell phones, to posting status updates on Facebook — may be taking a very serious academic toll.

According to this new study, new women students spent nearly half their day — 12 hours — engaged in some form of media use, particularly texting, music, the Internet and social networking. Researchers found media use, in general, was associated with lower grades an other academic problems. However, there were two exceptions: newspaper reading and listening to music were actually linked to a positive academic performance.

These findings were reported online in the journal Emerging Adulthood, and they offer some new insight into media use in early adulthood, at a time when many young people are living independently for the first time and have significant freedom from parental monitoring.

By John Redfern