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The Link Between Technology and Depression

Is there a correlation between using technology and depression? Some say yes. Researchers found a sudden increase in anxiety, depression, and suicide rates among teens around the time smartphones became popular. An AMA study in 2012 also showed that constant exposure to artificial light—even low-level light from computers and TV screens—can throw off our circadian rhythms, causing depression and mood disorders.

There's been a lot of debate about whether depression is the cause or the result of technology overuse. Do depressed people overuse technology in an attempt to make themselves feel better? Or does excessive use of technology lead to depression? While there's a probability of both happening, research suggests spending too much time with your devices can negatively impact your social connections, sleep patterns, and mental health.

The Social Connection

As of 2019, about 70 percent of adults in the U.S. used social media. Given that it was only about 5 percent in 2005, it's an understatement that social media has had a significant impact on our culture and our lives. A study by Jean Twenge, Ph.D., professor of psychology at San Diego State University, and colleagues found that adolescents who spent the most time on social media and the least time in face-to-face social interactions reported the most loneliness.

Add unrealistic standards for beauty, success, and fame to that limited human interaction, and you have a recipe for low self-esteem, depression, and a host of other problems. People often have a fear of missing out or compare their looks, lives, and achievements to what they see online, which can be very damaging. Spending excessive amounts of time online can also cause people to miss out on meaningful social connections in real life that could provide a greater sense of well-being.

Sleep is a Necessary Habit

Insomnia and other sleep problems also increase the risk of developing depression. Unfortunately, devices such as computers, cell phones, tablets, and televisions can wreak havoc on your sleep pattern. They emit blue light that restrains the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your circadian rhythm—also known as your sleep/wake cycle. Lowered melatonin levels make it difficult for you to fall asleep and stay asleep. 

Sleep deprivation affects levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones, among other things, thus creating a negative impact on the brain. Not only does lack of sleep impair thinking, but it also impedes emotional regulation. In this way, insomnia can amplify the effects of mental disorders and vice versa.

According to Harvard Medical School, studies estimate that 65 to 90 percent of adult patients with major depression, and about 90 percent of children with this disorder experience some sleep problems. Another study by Baylor University in 2015 also seems to support this. They surmised heavy smartphone users tend to be "more prone to moodiness, materialism, and temperamental behavior."

There are usually many factors that contribute to mental health issues, but getting a good night's sleep can help the body and brain function better. If you're using technology at night, give yourself a 30-minute window without gadgets before bedtime. 

While technology gives us the ability to sift through enormous amounts of information in the blink of an eye and provides unparalleled convenience, it must be kept in the proper context. Frequent distractions and constant stimulation can have negative impacts on real-life social connections, sleep habits, and mental health.