People with a digital subscriber line (DSL) access tend to sleep 25 minutes less than those without DSL. These people are also less likely to get enough sleep (7 to 9 hours) or to feel satisfied with the quality of their sleep. According to the researchers who produced the findings, the effect may be explained by time constraints in the morning and by the use of electronic devices in the evening — but not by their use throughout the day.
Researchers at Bocconi University, Italy, and the University of Pittsburgh, USA, crisscrossed data on broadband access in Germany to surveys where individuals reported their sleep duration and quality. Previously, studies have analyzed the effects of broadband access on electoral outcomes, social capital, fertility, and sex crimes. However, this is the first time that scientists have examined the causal effect of the access to high-speed Internet on sleeping behavior.
Poor sleep is a major public health hazard, which some scholars deem as the most prevalent risky behavior in modern society. In developed countries, this is an increasing problem as more and more people forgo the recommend 7-9 hours of sleep, exposing themselves to detrimental outcomes on health and cognitive performance. In Germany alone, 200,000 working days are lost each year due to insufficient sleep, translating in an economic loss of $60bln, or about 1.6% of the country’s GDP, according to a report of the RAND Corporation.
The researchers chose to focus on German citizens because the German Socioeconomic Panel (SOEP) is one of the few panel surveys containing a rich set of information both on sleep and access to high-speed Internet. Moreover, the country’s telecom infrastructure has many peculiarities that allowed the researchers to build stronger links between internet usage and sleep quality. For instance, you can see in the graph below how the territory corresponding to former East Germany (German Democratic Republic) — which is still feeling the effects of Soviet rule 30 years after the Iron Curtain fell — used to lag behind West Germany in terms of broadband access.
Today, 75% of Germany has 50 megabit internet but the federal government plans to invest 100 billion euros (US$106 billion) over eight years to roll-out gigabit internet across. Elsewhere, in Australia, companies like iSelect are planning to connect 93percentt of Australians to high-speed internet by 2021.
The research team’s conclusion was that access to high-speed Internet reduces both sleep duration and sleep satisfaction in individuals that face time constraints in the morning for work or family reasons.
“Individuals with DSL access tend to sleep 25 minutes less than their counterparts without DSL Internet. They are significantly less likely to sleep between 7 and 9 hours, the amount recommended by the scientific community, and are less likely to be satisfied with their sleep,” said Francesco Billari, a Full Professor of Demography at Bocconi University, Milan.
The increased use of electronic devices in the bedroom before sleep is considered one of the main factors contributing to the sleep deprivation epidemic and access to high-speed internet promotes excessive electronic media use.
“Taken together, our findings suggest that there may be substantial detrimental effects of broadband internet on sleep duration and quality through its effects on technology use near bedtime. High-speed Internet makes it very enticing to stay up later to play video games, surf the web and spend time online on social media. Given the growing awareness of the importance of sleep quantity and quality for our health and productivity, providing more information on the risks associated with technology use in the evening may promote healthier sleep and have non-negligible effects on individual welfare and well-being. More research is needed to understand the behavioral mechanisms underlying Internet addiction and how to nudge individuals into healthier sleep practices,” the researchers concluded in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.