Sleep Better

Social Media & Sleep: The Worst Apps for Keeping You Awake

An image of Autumn Wiberg-Roberts
25 Nov 20218 min read
sleepsleep qualitySocial Media

When was the last time you sent a letter? How about the last time you liked or commented on a friend’s post online? We imagine it’s a lot more often than putting pen to paper!

According to the latest data, we spend an average of 2 hours 25 minutes on social media sites and apps per day - that’s almost 17 hours per week!

This figure is up 61% compared to 2012, when we were averaging around 1 hour 30 minutes per day. This is only an average too; for many, especially younger age groups, the time is likely to be a lot higher.

So where are we spending our time? Globally, the top five social media platforms with the most active users are:

  1. Facebook (2.85 billion users)
  2. YouTube (2.29 billion users)
  3. WhatsApp (2 billion users)
  4. Instagram (1.39 billion users)
  5. Facebook Messenger (1.30 billion users)

The trendiest social media site on the block, TikTok, takes seventh place with 732,000,000 active users, despite being just five years old!

Ranked: The top 5 social media apps that ruin your sleep

Woman using social media on phone in bed at night

We’re all guilty of checking our phones before bedtime, but which social media apps are best at capturing our attention and delaying our sleep?

To find out, we enlisted the help of Thomas Wood, a Senior Designer at software and app development agency KOMODO. He analysed some of the most popular social media apps to find out just how they keep our attention for so long, ranking each from most to least engaging.

Top 5 worst social media apps for delaying your sleep

App Worst For Signs Your Sleep is Affected
TikTok Immersing you in a video content loop Racing mind
Feeling like you can't stop watching
Instagram  Luring you in with likes  Regularly refreshing for notifications
Fear of missing out
YouTube Keeping you watching for longer Watching multiple videos before bed
Facebook Keeping you scrolling Starting to see less relevant or important posts the longer you're in the scrolling loop
Reddit Fuelling a need for approval Monitoring upvotes and downvotes on your posts

1. TikTok named as the worst social media app to use before bed

The new kid on the block, TikTok, has already captured our attention and won our hearts - but how?

‘TikTok is designed in a way to almost drop you straight into the action as opposed to building up to it.’ Thomas explains.

‘With the likes of Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you must first add friends or follow people before you can start seeing their content. With TikTok, it is designed in a way to prevent that.

‘As soon as you open the app, videos are recommended to you instantly and you find yourself in a content loop before you know it. Purposely capped, short-burst videos work in a way to keep you engaged longer because they avoid breaking your attention momentum with ads or longer videos.

Likewise, the videos are the main focus, covering every inch of the screen. When playing, interactive elements and video captions fade into the background, allowing a user to engage solely with that content alone and avoid any other distractions.

TikTok’s ‘For You’ page is populated with videos that reflect the content you like to consume once the app learns more about you. This makes it even easier to get caught in a seemingly endless engagement loop.’

2. Instagram takes second place, using the lure of likes to keep us awake

Mobile phone with social media icons

What keeps us scrolling through Instagram night-after-night? According to Thomas, it’s all down to the lure of the like:

‘Instagram, like Facebook, is built on the interactive nature of ‘likes’. This is a main loop that draws users back in and gives that dopamine hit each time likes are received.

They’re one of the main reasons for users to return to the app. Over time, we form a habit of wanting to receive more likes, thus posting more content in order to receive them.

Using Instagram has infamously been compared to using a slot machine. It gradually loads a skeletal user interface before you see the actual content, which is ‘the jackpot’ of posts, likes and comments.’

3. YouTube is the third worst app to use before sleep, thanks to its Autoplay technology

Ever wondered why you can’t just watch one YouTube video? Thomas explains: ‘The app is designed to help keep the user on a conveyor belt of videos, whether that is through its autoplay feature, recommendations or cards used by creators themselves to guide the user through to another video as quickly as possible.’

‘The auto-play feature is what leads you down a YouTube ‘rabbit hole’’, says Thomas. ‘Recommendations on similar videos based on the thumbnails and genres users have engaged with, or videos they have added to playlists, are fed to the algorithm. These videos are automatically shown to the user, allowing them to sit back and watch without any interaction.        

‘Once enough information is captured, YouTube will tailor its homepage to offer an endless, infinitely scrolling page with similar videos to those you have watched. Combined with trending and popular videos, engagement is increased tenfold.’

4. Fourth-place Facebook keeps you stuck in a scrolling loop

Woman using mobile phone in bed

As a long-standing social media platform, Facebook has captured our attention for many years now. In addition to the dopamine hits associated with the platform’s famed like button, it seems variety is the key to keeping us engaged.

Thomas explains: ‘To refresh their feeds, users can pull down at the top of their feed to deliver new notifications and posts, thus creating essentially another endless stream of content.

This is in combination with Facebook's cleverly designed infinite scrolling loop. Users are served content not in an order of date posted but based on the users they interact with more, the popularity of posts and targeted ads through Facebook's algorithm.’

5. Reddit is the least engaging of the apps analysed, but upvotes and downvotes will still keep your mind racing

The upvote and downvote system is what has made Reddit one of the most popular social media and social news sites in the world. Here’s why we find it so hard to switch off before bed:

‘The main addicting nature of the upvote/downvote system is to encourage users to not only post information they may deem as popular but also vote on the content they like best, thus putting that post or content at the forefront of the site.

Thomas continues: ‘Because this design system promotes popular content, content creators fall into the trap of wanting to feel liked and important. Producing a piece that is upvoted and becomes popular can give that dopamine hit to a user, making them want to engage further.’

5 tips to quit social media at bedtime

Woman sleeping with smartphone turned off

So how can you resist the draw of social media apps at bedtime if the very design of them is to hold our attention? We spoke to Lisa Artis, Deputy CEO at The Sleep Charity, who shared their tips for switching off for sleep:

1. Include screen-free time in your daily routine

With much of our time spent scrolling, try to include some screen-free time into your day, ideally as you wind down for bed. Swap social media for a hot bath or a good book and you might just find that falling asleep becomes that little bit easier.

2. Silence push notifications

Most of us will have our phones on silent before bed but screens lighting up with every notification or alert you receive will almost certainly distract you. In some instances, you may even start to feel FoMO (fear of missing out) and get the sudden urge to check your phone to find out what’s happening on social media.

Start by turning off your notifications. That way, even if you are getting updates, they won’t interrupt your routine. If you do start feeling FoMO, do some relaxation exercises to clear your mind.

3. Charge your phone elsewhere

Some of us rely on our mobile phones as an alarm clock, so it seems logical to charge our devices in the bedroom. However, keeping our gadgets at arm's length is a huge temptation to keep scrolling when we should be sleeping.

Instead, plug your phone into charge in a different room and invest in a traditional alarm clock if you need to.

4. Engage with social media less before bed

As we’ve established, social media is designed to engage us and stimulate our brain - not good when we’re trying to relax ready for sleep! As you try and reduce your reliance on social media before bed, try to avoid the social media habits which will take your engagement up a notch.

For example, don’t share a post just before you go to bed; the lure of likes will lead to you repeatedly checking your notifications, distracting you from sleep. If you must use social media before bed, stick to passively scrolling rather than posting or messaging friends.

5. Invest in blue light glasses

As natural light levels decrease throughout the day, melatonin levels naturally build up which tell our bodies to wind down for sleep. However, our devices emit blue light, which essentially tells our brains to stay awake. Exposure to blue light suppresses melatonin production and makes falling asleep trickier.

If you absolutely need to use social media before bed, it might be worth investing in blue light glasses, which are designed to block this type of light and reduce the impact it has on our sleep. However, the best solution is to avoid screens between 30 minutes and two hours before bed.

If you’re in a routine of using social media every night before bed, breaking the habit may be tricky. However, stick with it and you could find that over time, the quality of the sleep you’re getting improves.

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