It’s 23 hours and you have to get up early for a conference call in the morning. You are in bed, but instead of resting, you are sitting on your phone, browsing social networks and admiring the vacation photos of your classmate in high school. By the time you fall asleep, rest for only a few hours, and spend the rest of the day drinking cups of coffee, promising to sleep more that night.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. In fact, some researchers have considered the use of smartphones at night as a public health challenge, as more than 40% of young matures report that their mobile phone affects their sleep. According to a study conducted in Copenhagen, Denmark, people who use technology at night sleep an average of 48 minutes less per night than those who do not. Over time, these 48-minute increases can add up to significant sleep debt-and major health problems.
Why the use of night technology harms sleep
According to the Cleveland Clinic, using your phone (or tablet) before bed sabotages your sleep and harms your health for a variety of reasons. First, it allows you to stay psychologically engaged. Even when you consume positive content, such as scrolling through Pinterest for recipes, your brain is “on” and you don’t give it a chance to relax and unwind. The problem is even worse if what you read or watch is stressful. Checking the news or reading work emails before you go to sleep is almost guaranteed to keep you awake, as your brain then focuses on solving problems and managing your stress.
However, it’s not just what you see that disturbs your sleep. The phone itself keeps you awake. Technological devices emit blue light, which disrupts your body’s production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Basically, blue light makes your brain think it’s daylight, which in turn suppresses melatonin and allows you to stay awake and go deeper into sleep debt.
This problem is only exacerbated by one of the main features of smart technology-notifications. From email gongs to news alerts and text messages from friends in different time zones, notifications keep coming to your phone all night, even when you’re asleep. If you forget to turn off the sound on your phone before going to bed, these sounds and lights can interfere with your sleep even if you don’t wake up. Technology creates a state of constant alertness, which comes from everything from the stimulation of the content you consume to the alerts themselves. This has a profound effect on your REM sleep, which means that even if you technically get enough sleep, you won’t get the sleep your body needs.
Developing a healthier relationship with technology is key to preventing sleep disorders. Taking just a few first steps, which may seem difficult at first, can make a big difference in the amount of sleep you get and can even help you develop a better relationship with technology as a whole.
Keep technology out of your room. Storing your phone or tablet somewhere other than your room at night will prevent you from staying up all night and scrolling without thinking. If you absolutely need to have your phone in the room (for example, you have elderly relatives who need to reach you at any time), but the device on the other side of the room is out of reach.
Do not use the do not disturb function. Most electronic devices have a setting that silences calls and notifications at night, so you don’t have to turn off completely.
Turn on the night mode. If your device has a night mode, set it to turn on automatically before bed. This mode reduces the blue light coming from the screen and helps you fall asleep.
Do not use the phone before going to bed. Ideally, it would be better to put your phone away at least two hours before going to bed so that your brain can go into sleep and relaxation mode. Go into a power-up routine, then participate in a bedtime celebration that doesn’t involve electronics.
Don’t take your phone with you if you can’t sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, don’t spend time on your phone. Instead, get out of bed and read a little, try relaxation exercises, or enjoy a cup of tea that will put you to sleep.
Insufficient sleep is associated with a host of health problems, from get-down and anxiety to obesity and heart issue. Unfortunately, the more you use your smartphone, the more disturbed your sleep can be and the more difficult it will be for you to fall asleep and stay asleep. Limiting your use of technology before bed is therefore essential to avoid serious sleep debt and the health problems that come with it.