Published February 11, 2022
Time spent watching television, playing video games or listening to music just prior to going to sleep might not be as bad for you as you think. The relationship between media use and sleep quality is a complicated union, with multiple factors that can either improve or disrupt a good night’s rest, according to the results of a new study by a UB researcher.
“We found that media use just prior to the onset of sleep is associated with an earlier bedtime and more total sleep time, as long as the duration of use is relatively short and you’re not multitasking, like texting or simultaneously scrolling social media,” says Lindsay Hahn, assistant professor of communication, College of Arts and Sciences. “Watching a streaming service or listening to a podcast before bed can serve as a passive, calming activity that improves aspects of your sleep.”
But you have to do it right, and effectively using media as an instrument to improve sleep depends on staying within certain boundaries.
Hahn’s research focused exclusively on legacy media, such as television, radio, video games and books.
“We intentionally looked only at what you might call ‘entertainment media,’” says Hahn, a co-author on the paper and an expert in media psychology and media effects. “Despite social media getting a lot of attention both in research circles and in popular culture, American time-use surveys show that people still spend a lot of time with television, music and books.
“Investigating their use remains important because we aren’t always using social media.”
Poor quality sleep can affect both physical and mental health, and sleep problems have been linked to obesity, cardiovascular diseases, depression and anxiety. And the problem of insufficient sleep has been increasing in the U.S.
Hahn says previous research has suggested how media use might contribute to sleep problems, but because many of these results are inconsistent, her team wanted to explore the media-sleep relationship using different methodology.
Earlier work relied on self-reporting, asking participants to recall their media use. Many of those studies also had participants sleep in a lab, or asked people to self-determine the quality of their sleep. Hahn’s study relied on a media diary to chronicle use as it occurred. She also trained the 58 adult participants how to use an electroencephalography (EEG) machine, a non-intrusive device that measures electrical activity in the brain. The EEG provided an objective measure of sleep quality and duration.
In general, results suggest that media use one hour before bed was associated with an earlier bedtime and with more sleep, but the effects diminished as the duration of media increased or when participants multitasked. Hahn’s team also found that, contrary to some previous research, being in bed during media use was associated with more total sleep time, and the amount of deep sleep or rapid eye movement (REM) sleep was unaffected by media use before bed.
“These results show the potential benefits of media use and point to the possibility of interventions that allow for media use before bed in ways that improve, rather than disrupt sleep,” says Hahn. “People tend to worry a lot about media use affecting their health or well-being, but our findings repeatedly show that media use can be good for us, too.”