Social Media Stymies Performance

January 24, 2019

Tweeting More, Sleeping Less: A new study says athletes who stay up late using social media—forgoing important sleep—may pay for it the next day with decreased athletic performance.

New research reported by Reuters Health suggests that late night social media use may have a negative impact on an athlete’s performance the next day. In the study, NBA players who were active on Twitter between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. the night before a game saw a marked decrease in performance. With many young athletes active on social media, these findings could have important implications.

“Most of us have these devices in our bedrooms and beds, and they interfere with our bedtime routines, keep us up at night and reduce our sleep quality,” Lauren Hale, PhD, Professor of Family, Population, and Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University, said in an email to Reuters Health.

Dr. Hale and a team of sleep researchers at Stony Brook analyzed time-stamped tweets for 112 players in the NBA from 2009 to 2016 and looked at next-day points scored, rebounds, minutes played per game, turnovers, fouls, and shooting accuracy. They found that late-night tweeting was associated with less time played, fewer points scored, and fewer rebounds the following day. Shooting accuracy seemed particularly affected, as players made baskets at 1.7 percentage points less following late-night social media activity.

To avoid the potential effects of travel or jetlag, the researchers only analyzed games where East Coast teams played other East Coast teams and West Coast teams played other West Coast teams. “Late-night tweeting” was defined as activity between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., but the researchers found that the same pattern of decreased performance continued even when looking only at tweets made between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. For players who were infrequent late-night tweeters, performance was negatively affected more than those who habitually stayed up and tweeted late at night.

While the research is compelling, it’s still yet to be conclusive. For example, late-night tweeters also committed fewer turnovers and fouls, though that could be attributed to getting less playing time. Dr. Hale explained that when it comes to the relationship between late-night tweeting and performance, there could be other factors affecting the data.

“Maybe the coach sensed they were off, but maybe the player already knew they weren’t going to play much, and that’s why they stayed up late the night before the game,” she said.

This study points to the importance of proper sleep. The team at Stony Brook will continue to study how athletes can get the sleep they need to perform at a high level.

“We all need to sleep well and function during the day,” Hale said. “This (study in pro athletes) was a way to look at sleep and functioning in a way that speaks to a broader audience.”

Sleep researcher Mohamed Arbi Mejri, PhD, of the National Center of Medicine and Science in Sports in Tunisia, who wasn’t involved in the study, has talked about the importance of good sleep hygiene. He recommends putting devices away an hour before bedtime and eliminating screen light or blue light from the bedroom while sleeping.

“Even among elite performers, not getting enough sleep impairs next-day functioning,” Dr. Hale said. “If you want to be your best self every day, try putting away your phone at night.”

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