Study reveals link between social media use and nightmares, impacting sleep and mental health

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In a recent study published in BMC Psychology, researchers created a scale to detect bad social media-associated dreams based on themes such as powerlessness, lack of control, inhibition, victimization, and blunders. They also examined the relationship between using social media, sleep quality, emotional well-being, and nightmares.

Study: Social media-related nightmare — a potential explanation for poor sleep quality and low affective well-being in the social media era? Image Credit: Gorodenkoff / Shutterstock.com

Does social media affect our dreams?

Previous studies have shown that daytime social media use may impact nocturnal dreams; however, limited research exists on its role in increasing the intensity or frequency of terrifying and unpleasant dreams. Moreover, strong relationships between media usage and the frequency of media-related dreams have been observed, with the age of first use and usage frequency contributing to dream severity. Excessive social media use may also lead to poor sleep quality, as well as mental and physical health issues.

About the study

Researchers used the continuity research hypothesis and neurocognitive model to explore associations between social networking site use, sleep quality, dreams, and psychiatric well-being. To this end, self-report measures were used to quantitatively measure social media-associated nightmares and how they influence sleep quality, nightmare discomfort, mental health, mental peace, and anxiety.

The Social Media Nightmare-Related Scale (SMNS) was also created, which includes 14 questions and synthesizes the literature on dream content, nightmare categories, and the interaction between media use and dreams. The initial components of SMNS were developed using recognized criteria for analyzing dream content and the proposed nightmare categories. Frequent social media user issues were also addressed, including harassment, data breaches, anxiety posting, and societal disapproval.

Three psychologists with experience developing scales provided feedback aimed at improving the items' relevance, simplicity, and clarity. All study participants were asked to rate the frequency of dreaming about social media-associated subjects, such as disrupted bonds with other users.

The Social Media Use Integration Scale (SMUIS) measured the intensity of social networking site usage by assessing its integration into daily activities. The Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) anxiety subscale evaluated the magnitude of anxiety symptoms upsetting participants in the previous week.

The Calm of Mind Scale (PoM) investigated internal calm and comfort in daily living, whereas the Sleep Quality Scale (SQS) assessed total sleep quality during a one-week recall period. The Nightmare Distress Questionnaire (NDQ) measured subjective experiences after nightmares.

SMNS was validated using factor analysis, item analysis, and structural equation models (SEM). The researchers assessed the model fit using the Tucker-Lewis Index (TLI), Comparative Fit Index (CFI), and root-mean-square error of approximation (RMSEA).

In February of 2022, 595 adults using social media in Iran completed online questionnaires. Of these individuals, data from 290 participants were examined using exploratory factor analysis (EFA) to investigate possible variables, whereas data from the remaining 305 participants were analyzed using confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) to cross-validate the identified factors.

Study findings

Instagram was the most popular social media network used among participants, at 87%, followed by Twitter and Facebook at 11% and 2%, respectively. SMNS had a unidimensional form with good psychometric qualities. The most prevalent nightmares included being unable to connect to social media sites and breaking connections with others using social media platforms.

The intensity with which individuals used social media predicted the frequency of social media-associated nightmares. These nightmares were associated with increased worry, reduced peace, nightmare distress, and poor sleep.

Social media-associated nightmares moderated the association between the intensity of social media usage and low emotional well-being, which included both peace of mind and anxiety, nightmare discomfort, and poor sleep.

SMUIS showed internal consistency with its subscales, and the anxiety subscale demonstrated high reliability. Likewise, NDQ and its subscales performed well in terms of sampling sufficiency and factorability.

The one-factor solution, which included 14 items, explained 37% of the variation, thus indicating that the set of items might be unidimensional. The unidimensional confirmatory factor analysis model provided a satisfactory match, with factor loadings ranging from 0.3 to 0.7. The researchers achieved a Cronbach's alpha value of 0.8, thus showing high internal consistency. 

No significant gender or age variations were observed in the incidence of social networking-associated nightmares, with respondents reporting a low prevalence of these nightmares. The mediation study revealed considerable mediation effects of social media-associated nightmares in the relationship between social networking platform usage integration, anxiety, mental peace, nocturnal distress, and sleep quality.

Conclusions

Increasing social media usage is associated with a greater frequency of nightmares, which may lead to anxiety and reduced sleep quality. Thus, the current study's researchers propose increasing awareness of feelings and thoughts when using social media and practicing appropriate use to alleviate these nightmares.

Individuals who used social media reported more frequent nightmares, thus indicating fears related to social media experiences. The study findings suggest that social networking-associated nightmares modulate the relationship between social media integration, sleep quality, and emotional wellness.

Journal reference:
  • Shabahang, R., Kim, S., Aruguete, M.S., et al. (2024). Social media-related nightmare — a potential explanation for poor sleep quality and low affective well-being in the social media era? BMC Psychology 12(140). doi:10.1186/s40359-024-01605-z
Pooja Toshniwal Paharia

Written by

Pooja Toshniwal Paharia

Pooja Toshniwal Paharia is an oral and maxillofacial physician and radiologist based in Pune, India. Her academic background is in Oral Medicine and Radiology. She has extensive experience in research and evidence-based clinical-radiological diagnosis and management of oral lesions and conditions and associated maxillofacial disorders.

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