FOMO is real, says science

FOMO is so much more than a hashtag, y’all — in fact, it might be making your life worse right now, especially if it’s past your bedtime.

A new study by researchers at the University of Glasgow in the UK found that pre-teens and teenagers who spend more time on social media feel pressure to be constantly available, are more vulnerable to feelings of depression and experience feelings of “anxiety around ‘missing out’” — or, as the rest of us know it, the dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out).

The researchers, Dr. Heather Cleland Woods and Holly Scott, gave a questionnaire to 467 students ages 11-17 from the same school, having them answer questions about their emotional and psychological well-being (covering self-esteem, anxiety, depression and sleep quality) and their social media use, such as “How many hours do you use social media on a typical day?” and “How long do you use social media after the time you intended to fall asleep?”

The researchers found that teens who were most active on social media and especially invested in their online lives were more likely to report worse sleep quality, lower self-esteem and higher rates of anxiety and depression than their peers who spent less time online.

Unsurprisingly (at least to all of us who have somehow found ourselves still mired in a Twitter debate at 1:30 in the morning), the study found that teens who spent more time on social media — including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube — in the evening were most likely to experience these negative effects.

According to Dr. Woods, the reason could be that “there is pressure to be available 24/7 and not responding to posts or texts immediately can increase anxiety. Also, [there is] anxiety around ‘missing out.’”

She suggested that the pressure some teens feel to be constantly available and responsive on social media could cause greater anxiety or depression. This in turn can impact sleep quality, making the problem even worse.

“While overall social media use impacts on sleep quality, those who log on at night appear to be particularly affected,” said Dr. Woods. “This may be mostly true of individuals who are highly emotionally invested. This means we have to think about how our kids use social media, in relation to time for switching off.”

One proposed solution involves creating a “digital sunset” time, meaning that computers, tablets, smartphones and other devices would automatically be disabled after a certain time at night. It remains to be seen if this is actually feasible, but it would at least let us off the 24/7-connectivity hook and help us feel less guilty about not responding instantly to our friend’s photo of the new haircut she got while on vacation in London.

Of course, more research is needed to see how widespread this issue really is, but everyone seems to more or less agree that too much use of social media is bad for you, and too much use of social media while you’re supposed to be sleeping is really bad for you. So next time you start to feel a little bit of FOMO while stalking friends of friends on Instagram, it might help to ask yourself: Wouldn’t I rather be taking a nap?

[Image: Comedy Central]

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