Man screaming from a nightmare in bed

(Photo by LightField Studios on Shutterstock)

In case you needed another reason to take a long break from your daily doomscrolling…

ADELAIDE, Australia — The advent of social media was a dream come true for individuals who simply love sharing photos, videos, and snippets of their daily lives with friends and family. New research, however, suggests that spending too much time on your favorite social media networks could actually lead to disturbing nightmares.

The study, led by a team of international researchers and published in the journal BMC Psychology, introduces the concept of “social media-related nightmares,” a new type of bad dream that stems from the stresses and anxieties of our online experiences. These nightmares often revolve around themes of helplessness, loss of control, and victimization in the context of social media interactions. Social media-related nightmares also have the potential to function as stressors, disrupting the sleep cycle of users and potentially causing awakenings during the night.

What leads to social media nightmares?

To better understand this phenomenon, the researchers developed the Social Media-Related Nightmare Scale (SMNS), a 14-item questionnaire designed to measure the frequency and content of these distressing dreams. The scale includes items such as “Being unable to log in to social media,” “Disruption of relationships with other social media users,” and “Being sexually harassed in social media.”

The study surveyed 595 Iranian adults who regularly use social media, with the majority being Instagram users. While the overall frequency of social media-related nightmares was relatively low, the findings revealed a significant link between the intensity of social media use and the occurrence of these unsettling dreams.

Participants who reported higher levels of social media integration in their daily lives, meaning they spent more time on these platforms and felt more emotionally connected to them, were more likely to experience social media-related nightmares. The most common nightmares involved being unable to log in to social media and experiencing disruptions in online relationships.

But the impact of these nightmares goes beyond just a few unsettling moments during the night. The study found that individuals who experienced more frequent social media-related nightmares also reported higher levels of anxiety, lower peace of mind, poorer sleep quality, and greater distress from their bad dreams.

These findings suggest that social media-related nightmares could be a potential pathway through which our online habits may be negatively impacting our mental health and well-being.

Tech-based dreams will only get worse

While the study’s correlational design means that it cannot definitively prove that social media use causes these nightmares, the results highlight the importance of being mindful of our online engagement. As social media continues to evolve and become increasingly intertwined with our lives, it’s crucial that we develop healthy habits and boundaries to protect our mental health both during our waking hours and when we’re drifting off to sleep.

“With the rapid advances in technology and media, including artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality, along with the increasing dependency on these technologies and deeper integration, it is anticipated that dreams featuring technological and media content will become more frequent,” says co-author Reza Shabahang, of Flinders University, in a statement. “Future studies have the potential to expand the scope of this exploration, delving into areas such as nightmares related to the perceived dangers of AI.”

So, what can we do to minimize the risk of social media-related nightmares? Shabahang recommends being more aware of our thoughts and feelings while using these platforms and striving for responsible, mindful engagement. This might involve setting limits on our daily social media use, being selective about the content we consume and share, and taking breaks when we feel overwhelmed or stressed by our online interactions.

Of course, avoiding Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and other popular networks entirely could also help. Past research has shown that even taking a week off from social media makes people happier and improves well-being. StudyFinds’ Amy Chodroff also created a list of seven reasons taking a social media detox can be good for you. Sweeter dreams might just have to be added on as an eighth reason now, it looks like.

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StudyFinds publishes digestible, agenda-free, transparent research summaries that are intended to inform the reader as well as stir civil, educated debate. We do not agree nor disagree with any of the studies we post, rather, we encourage our readers to debate the veracity of the findings themselves. All articles published on StudyFinds are vetted by our editors prior to publication and include links back to the source or corresponding journal article, if possible.

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