Twitter Could Help Researchers Examine Sleep Disorders, Study Finds

June 12, 2015 in News

Analyzing Twitter data could be an effective way to examine sleep disorders for larger populations, according to a study published Monday in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, MedCity News reports (Versel, MedCity News, 6/11).

Study Details

For the study, researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital and drugmaker Merck analyzed data from 896 active Twitter users to determine a “digital phenotype” of people suffering from sleep disorders (BCH release, 6/11). The researchers wrote code using Twitter’s application programming interface to search every 15 minutes for keywords and hashtags related to sleep issues, such as:

  • Ambien;
  • Can’t sleep;
  • Insomnia; and
  • Melatonin.

They then determined the time of day and average sentiment of tweets (MedCity News, 6/11).

In addition, the researchers examined each user’s:

  • Age;
  • Average number of tweets per day;
  • Length of time on Twitter with an active account;
  • Location;
  • Number of favorite tweets;
  • Time zone;
  • Total number of tweets; and
  • Total numbers of followers or people followed.

Study Findings

Compared with Twitter users without sleep issues, the researchers found that Twitter users with sleep issues:

  • Had been active on Twitter for a relatively long time;
  • Had fewer followers and followed fewer people;
  • Posted few tweets per day on average;
  • Were more active on Twitter between 6 p.m. and 5:59 a.m.;
  • Were more active on Twitter on weekends and early weekdays (BCH release, 6/11); and
  • Were more likely to post tweets with negative sentiments.

The researchers noted that the findings could suggest that “individuals identified as having a sleep issue via social media [are] at a greater risk of psychosocial issues.” However, they added that the findings are preliminary and that more research needs to be conducted (Med CityNews, 6/11).

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