Social media and sleep: ethical agendas in the digital age

Start date

03 October 2016

End date

02 October 2017


Sleep is a site and source of ethics, from long-standing proverbs of the ‘early to bed early to rise …’ kind to contemporary moralising regarding sleep medicines. Recent developments in digital and social media add further dynamics to these matters given their Janus-faced relations with sleep. On the one hand, social media are said to disturb sleep; with recent research, for example, suggesting that increased dependency on social network sites is associated with decreased sleep quality. On the other hand, sleep experts are using the same media to develop novel methods for investigating sleep; with researchers, for example, building a ‘digital phenotype’ of insomnia using microblogging (Twitter) data. Further complexities arise when new technologies are considered – such as Somnometer, Fitbit etc - which feed sleep data directly to users and encourage sharing to traditional forms of social media.

We undertook a programme of work that provided:

  1. An innovative methodology that is reflective of its own role with regard to ethical issues
  2. A multidisciplinary network that includes social scientists, biomedical sleep experts, designers and methodologists
  3. Scoping data from designers/sleep experts involved in design and from a large sample of users/non-users/prospective users.


Whilst our vision is to develop a larger scale systematic study, the current lacuna and the multidisciplinary nature of the area mean that an initial programme of work is necessary which includes developing an innovative methodology that is reflective of its own role with regard to these ethical issues.

Funding amount