High rate internet addiction, poor sleep, depression in Nepali undergraduates

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Photograph by Bill Hinton/Getty

A recent study published in the journal, BMC Psychiatry has found that a high percentage of undergraduate students suffer from internet addiction, depression and poor sleep quality. The study was based on 984 students from 27 undergraduate campuses in Chitwan and Kathmandu. The researchers relied on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, Young’s Internet Addiction Test and Patient Health Questionnaire-9, to see how students were faring in these important areas.

Finding showed that 35.4 percent of students have poor sleep quality, 35.4 have internet addiction and 21.2 have depression. Poor sleep quality includes not being able to sleep within 30 minutes often, waking up frequently in the middle of the night or early in the morning, having bad dreams, not being able to breathe comfortably during sleep, etc. Internet addiction involves various habits, such as staying online longer than one had intended very frequently, finding that one’s work or academic progress suffers because of internet use, becoming defensive when asked about one’s online use, forming relationships frequently with other online users, etc. Those who are addicted to the internet will often feel depressed or moody when they are offline, and their personal relationships can become affected by the extent of their internet use. Depression, meanwhile, is often characterized by having little interest or pleasure in doing things, overeating or having a poor appetite, feeling bad about oneself, having trouble concentrating, and sometimes, having thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

Researchers noted that poor sleep quality was more prevalent in those of a lower age, those who did not drink alcohol, were Hindu, were sexually active and those who had failed the previous year’s board examination. Higher rates of internet addiction, meanwhile, were more prevalent in those who were younger, those who were sexually inactive, and those who had failed the past year’s exam. Depression, meanwhile, was more common in those of a higher age, those who were sexually inactive, those in the earlier years of study and those who had failed the last board exam. They noted, however, that poor sleep quality or internet addiction alone does not increase the risk of depressive symptoms. Rather, it is “a battery of predictors including internet addiction and sleep quality that affects depressive symptoms.”

The causes for each of the conditions tends to be slightly different. Many persons suffering from poor sleep quality, for instance, are older, physically inactive and may indulge in unhealthy habits such as smoking and alcohol consumption. For these individuals, a variety of approaches can work, including cognitive behavioral therapy, taking up regular exercise, and quitting harmful addictions that affect their physical and mental wellbeing.

The causes of internet addiction include lack of social support and loneliness. Often, people become addicted to the internet because of the relationships they create online. It can be easier to hind behind an avatar or clever nick, and when chatting online incognito, issues such as shyness and social awkwardness can be avoided. Like all addictions, internet addiction is usually approached from a therapeutic perspective. Specialists often recommend complementary activities (especially holistic activities such as yoga and tai chi) to lower stress and to encourage patients to meet other individuals within a healthy setting.

The causes of depression include a lack of physical activity, having been abused physically or sexually, facing serious stress, and not having sufficient social support. Depression can be treated medically and/or via counselling sessions involving a variety of approaches. CBT is also one of the standard treatment methods for depression. In CBT, the therapist helps the patient understand the patterns that may get them emotionally stuck or exacerbate their depressive symptoms. Other complementary activities include yoga and mindfulness meditation, which encourage self-compassion and acceptance. Finally, those who are depressed or suffering from any type of addiction are often prescribed nature-based therapies (such as horticultural therapy), since being in the great outdoors has been found in numerous studies to lower symptoms of depression and anxiety.

In a very important way, the online boom is contributing to specific physical and mental illnesses, including obesity, Type II diabetes and, as mentioned above, addiction. It is vital that undergraduates be encouraged to adopt a healthier lifestyle which includes nutritious eating, regular exercise, non-internet-based social interaction, and time spent in natural areas.

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