Research News

For teens, online bullying worsens sleep and depression

Teen girl sitting at a desk, her head in her hands, with laptop and cellphone nearby.

By MARCENE ROBINSON

Published May 13, 2019

headshot of Misol Kwon.
“Cyber victimization on the internet and social media is a unique form of peer victimization and an emerging mental health concern among teens who are digital natives.”
Misol Kwon, doctoral student
School of Nursing

Teens who experience cyberbullying are more likely to suffer from poor sleep, which in turn raises levels of depression, a UB study has found.

Although research has examined the relationship between online bullying and depression, the UB study is one of the few to explore the connection between cyber victimization and sleep quality.

The study surveyed more than 800 adolescents for sleep quality, cyber aggression and depression.

The research will be presented by Misol Kwon, first author and a doctoral student in the School of Nursing, at SLEEP 2019, the 33rd annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, being held June 8-12 in San Antonio.

“Cyber victimization on the internet and social media is a unique form of peer victimization and an emerging mental health concern among teens who are digital natives,” Kwon says. “Understanding these associations supports the need to provide sleep hygiene education, and risk prevention and interventions to mistreated kids who show signs and symptoms of depression.”

Nearly one third of teens have experienced symptoms of depression, which, in addition to changes in sleep pattern, include persistent irritability, anger and social withdrawal, according to the U.S. Office of Adolescent Health.

And nearly 15 percent of U.S. high school students report being bullied electronically, Kwon says. At severe levels, depression may lead to disrupted school performance, harmed relationships or suicide.

The risks of allowing depression to worsen highlight the need for researchers and clinicians to understand and target sleep quality and other risk factors that have the potential to exacerbate the disorder.

The research was supported by a $1.8 million grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in the National Institutes of Health awarded to Jennifer Livingston, principal investigator and associate professor in the School of Nursing.

Additional School of Nursing investigators include Suzanne Dickerson, professor and chair of the Department of Biobehavioral Health and Clinical Sciences, and Eunhee Park, assistant professor. Young Seo, a doctoral candidate in the UB Graduate School of Education, is also an investigator.