The surprising truth about unwinding with social media

By Dr. Nidhi Gupta on 26th Mar 2024

After a demanding day, there’s a familiar ritual that many of us turn to – settling down in bed or on the couch, smartphone in hand, ready to be whisked away to a world of social media, infinite scrolling, and relaxation. Or so we think!

It’s a habit that seems to promise relaxation, a chance to unwind, and a respite from the day’s stressors. Yet, before you sink into the couch and go down the rabbit hole of social media, it’s essential to grasp the truth: the relaxation offered by scrolling social media before bedtime is really a myth rather than a reality.

In this article, let’s delve into the impact of scrolling through social media after a long day. I hope that by the end, you’ll be armed with new strategies to unwind, relax, and truly take a break in the evening.

Dr. Nidhi Gupta

I am a mother of two, a pediatric endocrinologist, and a digital wellness coach in Nashville/Franklin. A few years ago, I started noticing the side effects of screens in my patients – obesity, prediabetes, type 2 diabetes mellitus, anxiety, sleep issues, behavior problems, and more. I was compelled to take a deeper look! The strategies and concerns I share below are guided by my research that followed. (Here is a link to my TEDx talk on digital addiction:

The illusion of relaxation can be traced back to a few key factors that deceive us into believing that social media is the ultimate remedy for winding down.

Let’s explore these factors and unveil why they fall short of delivering the rejuvenating reprieve we seek:

  • Escapism and Temporary Distraction

The allure of social media lies in its promise to transport us to a different world, far removed from the challenges of reality. Whether it’s updates from our friends, reels, or cute cat videos, social media captivates our attention and momentarily distracts us from our worries. This escape from reality provides a sense of relief and detachment, leading us to believe we’re relaxing. (Or maybe we’re just avoiding doing the dishes!)

  • Mismatched Comfort

The act of physically sitting down, possibly snuggled under a cozy blanket, and being visually engaged with the screen does indeed create a feeling of comfort. This immediate physical relaxation can be mistaken for mental relaxation, even though the two are not synonymous. The comfort of the body doesn’t necessarily equate to a calm and rested mind.

  • Habitual Association

Over time, our brains have formed an association between scrolling social media and winding down. This habitual pattern has ingrained the idea that social media is a suitable prelude to sleep.

However, the reality is that this so-called relaxation is superficial and often short-lived. Here is how:

  1. The Blue Light 

Phone screens emit blue light that disrupts our natural circadian rhythm. This light interferes with the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for signaling sleep to our bodies. As a result, looking at screens before bedtime sends a message to our brain that it’s time to be awake, contradicting the goal of relaxation and restfulness.

  • Cognitive Engagement

While we perceive social media scrolling as a passive activity, it’s not devoid of mental engagement. Compelling stories, unexpected news, and emotional content keep our minds actively processing information. This cognitive engagement prevents a peaceful transition into slumber; instead, it leaves our minds stimulated and far from relaxed.

  • Fragmented Sleep Patterns

Prolonged screen viewing can extend into the night or even in the middle of the night. This encroaches upon the precious sleep hours we should be dedicating to rest. Consequently, the cycle of going to bed late due to social media and then waking up tired creates a disrupted sleep pattern, leaving us feeling less rested than we initially believed.

While social media might offer fleeting comfort and distraction, it falls short of providing the genuine relaxation required for a night of restful sleep. It’s time to reconsider our pre-sleep routines, embracing activities that genuinely promote relaxation such as reading a paper book, taking a leisurely stroll, moving charging stations outside of the bedroom and powering down screens at least 30 minutes before bed.

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