Your phone may be slowly killing you.
Hold up. Before we draw out the tin foil hats or — on a more reasonable note — peruse the ongoing bleakish research by The World Health Organization into the long term effects of mobile phone use, let’s address a much more pressing issue.
One true beauty of modern technology is the fact that it powers an ever-connected world. With our smart devices, we have access to the global network at all times. You can take calls, reply emails and text, browse the internet, or even catch up on some Netflix shows—even in the dead of night.
However, this system of never being fully shut off from the world can quickly become a problem in many aspects of our lives, especially when it comes to sleep.
Sleep deprivation is no joke.
The potential impact of getting inadequate sleep include several short term issues like moodiness, reduced cognition, and a lower sex drive. Sleep deprivation can also lead to more morbid long-term problems like weight gain, high blood pressure, and an increased risk factor for diabetes, heart disease, and even early death.
And your electronic gadgets may be significant offenders.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, using smartphones, TVs, computers, and other electronic devices before and during sleep hours can upset your body’s internal clock and make it harder for you to fall asleep or get adequate regenerative sleep.
Hence, while you might have tried (and failed) to improve your sleep with everything from meditation to melatonin pills, the answer could be as simple as turning off all your electronic devices before bed.
How long before bed, though?
How Long Before Bed Should You Turn off Electronics?
If tech gadgets are a fundamental part of your evenings, one of the best things you can do for your sleep is to place a curfew on these devices.
Setting a cutoff time for electronics use can help mitigate the sleep-harming impact blue light emitted from smartphones, computers, tabs, and TVs can have on your circadian rhythm and quality of sleep.
However, there are no set recommendations for nighttime electronics use, so you have to pick a timeframe that works for you.
The National Sleep Foundation advocates for an electronic device cut off point between 30 minutes and 2 hours from bedtime. A good rule of thumb is to opt for at least an hour, as this timeframe is quite realistic for most people.
How Electronic Devices Sabotage Your Sleep
In today’s world, technological devices permeate virtually all aspects of our lives. Everything from work to play and entertainment all now incorporate some form of technology.
Hence, it is no surprise that, for many, multiple electronic gadgets now feature in the nighttime routines, before bed, and sometimes, even in bed. This practice is terrible news for sleep quality as electronic use can have a far-reaching, negative impact on your sleep.
Digital devices can sabotage your sleep in two main ways:
Suppressing Melatonin Production
After a night of good sleep, nothing can boost your mood and alertness like a healthy dose of morning sunlight. We feel this way because of the exposure to a specific segment of the light spectrum.
Exposure to light suppresses Melatonin’s production — the hormone that induces sleepiness — which leaves us feeling active and ready to face the day with courage.
However, while all aspects of the light spectrum help to trigger this effect, blue light has the most profound impact on your body’s internal clock, the sleep-wake which regulates how alert or sleepy we feel. This effect holds whether the source of the blue light is natural or artificial, and herein lies the problem.
Electronic screens emit considerable amounts of blue light during use.
Hence, using your TVs, phones, and computers before bed can create a light stream that mimics natural sunlight. This faux sunlight suppresses melatonin production and gives you that bright-morning-type alertness boost that makes it almost impossible for you to get any shuteye.
Psychologically Engaging Your Mind
Smartphones, laptops, and other forms of technological devices make our lives infinitely more manageable and significantly more productive and more fun. However, there is such a thing as being too productive for your own good.
With devices, we always have an endless stream of entertainment, limitless information, and an ever-open portal to productive work.
However, this free access can constitute severe problems in many aspects of our lives, especially in sleep. With other activities, smart devices can often become a significant distraction, diverting our attention from other, more pressing matters. But with sleep, the problem is even worse.
When you are trying to sleep, a smart device can be a distraction and a roadblock to sleep onset. Using gadgets like smartphones before bed stimulates and engages our brains with feelings like excitement, thrill, outrage, or suspense. Having this unfettered access to a buffet of emotions can leave your mind in an alert state that can delay sleep onset and significantly detract from your sleep quality.
Even after you finally hit the sack, some feelings may be triggering enough to linger in your subconscious, disrupting your sleep, and potentially waking you up in the middle of the night.
Steps to Limiting the Impact of Your Electronics
Consider implementing the following tips to reduce the chance of your electronic devices interfering with your sleep:
- Turn off or store away all electronic devices (TVs, smartphones, laptops, tablets, computer monitors, gaming systems, smartwatches, and other media systems) at least an hour before bedtime
- If you absolutely must use some electronic devices before bed, consider using blue-light-blocking glasses and/or blue light blocking apps like lux.
- Set a reminder on your devices that goes off an hour before your typical bedtime to remind you to turn the gadgets off
- If you use your phone as your alarm clock, consider replacing it with a standalone clock
- Start reducing the intensity of your gadget use and screen on time at least a couple of hours before bed
- Reduce your devices’ brightness or set them to dark mode (or night mode—a builtin blue light filter that many new smartphones, computers, and TVs now have) in the evenings. If your device does not have a native night mode option, you can install a blue light blocking app.
To reduce nighttime anxiety associated with digital devices, consider:
- Training yourself to not react impulsively to notifications by ignoring your devices when they been sometimes during the day
- Check your phone notification only on a fixed schedule (e.g., every 30 minutes, 1 hour, or 2 hours)
- Turn off device notifications entirely
- During bedtime, keep your phone in another room
- Establish a relaxing nighttime routine that incorporates calming activities like reading a familiar paperback, listening to cool music, taking a warm bath, or sipping decaf tea.
- If you wake up in the middle of the night, resist any urges to take a quick peek at any of your digital devices.