What if social networks really are the stuff of nightmares?

Spending more time on social media could put you at greater risk of having unpleasant social-media related dreams that cause distress, sleep disruption and affect your peace of mind. — AFP Relaxnews

Not content with keeping you awake at night, social networks may even be finding their way into your dreams, researchers say. In fact, scientists report that the more time users spend on social media, the more likely they are to have nightmares, synonymous with stress and poorer quality sleep.

Social networking has the potential to impact physical and mental health. A number of scientific studies have already looked into the subject, suggesting that social media can be the cause of sleep disorders, weight problems and mental health issues such as stress and anxiety. But social networks can also have an indirect impact on the health of their users, particularly younger ones. New research, for example, reports that social networks may be a cause of nightmares.

"As social media becomes increasingly intertwined with our lives, its impact extends beyond waking hours, and may influence our dreams," says Reza Shabahang of Flinders University, Australia, quoted in a news release. The researcher, who developed the Social Media Nightmare-Related Scale to assess how social networking can contribute to nightmares, points out that this type of media can, if used excessively, influence the realm of dreams. This surprising finding was demonstrated in collaboration with a team of international researchers.

"Our study introduces the concept of social media-related nightmares, which are defined as nightmares that involve social media-related themes, such as cyberbullying, online hate or excessive social media use," says the lead author of this research, published in the journal, BMC Psychology.

Mental health impact

Using this measurement scale, the researchers conclude that social media-related nightmares remain rare – which is good news. But, Reza Shabahang continues, "those who use social media more during their daily lives are more likely to have social media-related nightmares that are associated with negative mental health outcomes, such as anxiety, depression, and sleep quality." This link between social networks and bad dreams, albeit weak, once again demonstrates the potential impact of these platforms on the mental health of the most active users.

And this effect could become even more pronounced with future technologies. "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," the scientist says.

To counteract such effects, the authors of this research simply recommend – as many experts and health professionals do – reining in your social media use, and adopting "responsible and mindful use" of these platforms. Future research in the field may focus on the impact of the perceived dangers of artificial intelligence on nightmares. – AFP Relaxnews

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