Technology and Sleep - Featured

Technology and Sleep: How Devices Affect Sleep Quality

by Mira Rakicevic

Today, it’s practically impossible to imagine the world without electronic devices. Almost every aspect of our lives depends on technology. So far, technological innovations have brought a range of benefits to humanity—from better communication to improved healthcare. 

However, since the invention of smartphones, most of us have become addicted to our mobile devices. About 41% of US smartphone users admit that they check their phones a few times an hour. Additionally, about 90% of Americans use technology within an hour before going to bed. 

Unfortunately, technology and sleep typically don’t go hand in hand. And in this article, you’ll see exactly why that is.

How Electronics Affect Sleep

Even though it may seem harmless to watch your favorite series before sleep or to send just one email, your cell phone, computer, or TV can prevent you from having a good night’s sleep. From emitting blue light to stimulating your brain, electronic devices steal you of quality sleep in several different ways.

Exposure to Blue Lights

Most electronics emit blue light, which is the strongest wavelength. Therefore, it affects our photoreceptors most intensely and confuses our brain into thinking that it’s still daytime. This way, it delays the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle.

So we can say that blue light and sleep are too fierce enemies. This is the reason why you’ll probably experience trouble falling asleep when you use your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other electronic gadget close to bedtime.

The extent to which blue light will affect your night’s rest depends on your screen’s light intensity. Additionally, the longer you stare at your mobile or computer, the greater the effect will be. So there’s a big difference between checking your phone quickly once or twice and preparing a presentation for tomorrow’s meeting.

Sudden Sounds

Besides the negative effects of blue light on melatonin, technology can adversely affect our slumber in other ways as well. Namely, all kinds of sound notifications may lead to restless sleep. According to the findings of the National Sleep Foundation, 22% of Americans sleep with their cell phone ringers on in their bedroom and about 10% said that they wake up due to their phones at least a few nights a week. 

It’s no surprise that noise can easily wake us up and sounds coming from our mobile devices are no exception. So if you don’t put your phone on silent mode, you’ll experience the negative effects of technology because your brain will pick up every beep and other sounds your phone makes when you receive a text, call, or get a Facebook notification. You might not remember hearing these sounds during the night, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t disturbed your sleep.

Stimulating Content

Technology and Sleep - Stimulating Content

Before you go to bed, you should do something that helps you get in sleep mode. Although you might think that playing a video game or watching a movie helps you unwind, this isn’t the case. In fact, these activities stimulate mental activity and keep you alert.

It’s even worse if you get stressed before bedtime, which can easily happen if you read work-related emails. Consequently, the use of technology before bed can lead to the release of stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, so you’ll likely be unable to sleep although it’s time for your night’s rest.

When you use your phone or tablet in bed night after night, your mind starts to subconsciously associate your sleeping environment with these stimulating activities. Instead, it’s recommended to get rid of all electronics from your bedroom in order to catch more ZZZs and avoid the negative impacts of technology.

Negative Effects of Wi-Fi 

Even when you’re not using your phone or laptop, wi-fi signals can negatively affect your slumber. A study from 2007 revealed that due to phone emissions, people need more time to fall asleep. Additionally, this research showed that different strengths and frequencies of emissions have different effects on sleep onset. Therefore, people using their electronic gadgets before bedtime are likely to have trouble falling asleep.

Research on technology and sleep has also found out that keeping a cell phone close to the bed or interacting with any device that uses wi-fi technology before bedtime can result in a disturbed sleep pattern and lead to sleep disorders.

Being Addicted 

More and more people are getting hooked on their smartphones. This technology addiction works the same way as any other addiction—checking on our phones gives us a lot of pleasure and any time we feel good, our body releases dopamine. Since this chemical supports our behavior, it can motivate us to develop an addictive habit.

Tech addicts typically have trouble reducing their screen time before sleep and as a result, doze off later than they should. Therefore, they usually get less sleep time and we all know how sleep deprivation can negatively affect our health.

Being Absorbed in Our Screen

Even if you’re not addicted, technology can suck you in when you actually need some shut-eye. For example, you want to reply to just one email before you hit the hay. However, then you see another email that needs your attention or your boss quickly replies to you and you get into a long conversation about the upcoming presentation. That’s why people who use screens before bed tend to sleep less.

In the end, it’s not just that they have gone to bed later, but they often have problems falling asleep due to the technology’s effects that we’ve discussed above.

How Does Technology Affect Children’s Sleep?

Technology and Sleep - Children

About 72% of children sleep with at least one electronic device in their bedroom. Additionally, a survey conducted by Common Sense reveals that about 39% of children keep their phones close to their beds. Also, about 7 out of 10 children check their cell phone within 30 minutes of falling asleep. As you can assume, this kind of behavior can harm children’s sleep.

Based on the National Sleep Foundation’s findings, children who sleep with their electronics on get fewer ZZZs compared to other children. It’s estimated that they lose up to an hour a night. Also, teenagers who sleep with their phones on get about 30 minutes less sleep than teens who turn their devices off.

Since there are so many negative effects of technology on health, parents should set certain rules about its use before bedtime. Here are a few tips on how you can improve your child’s sleep quality:

  • Help your child develop a healthy bedtime ritual, such as reading before bed. Numerous studies show that reading to young children brings a range of benefits to them.
  • Explain to them the relationship between technology and sleep and talk about the importance of a good night’s rest. If they understand how the use of technology interferes with their sleep, they will more likely make a good decision for themselves.
  • Help your child find more time for sleep. Try to reorganize their busy schedules so they can finish everything a bit earlier. This way, they’ll have more time to relax and catch more shut-eye.
  • And finally, as a role model, you should develop good sleep habits yourself.

How to Increase Sleep Quality

Now when you know why technology is bad for your sleep, you’ll probably want to find out how you can limit its negative effects. So here are a few pieces of advice that will hopefully help you have a great night’s sleep.

  • Stop using electronics, such as a smartphone, tablet, TV, and computer, at least half an hour before bedtime.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine. When you turn off all your electronic devices, you can read a book, take a warm bath, practice meditation, or listen to music.
  • Even when you don’t use electronics before bed, they can interfere with your slumber if you keep them close to your bed. Therefore, it’s best to leave them outside your bedroom.
  • If you can’t leave your phone in another room for some reason, make sure to put it on silent mode. Most devices now allow you to choose which notifications you want to receive or you can set it up to receive messages and calls only from certain people.
  • When you need to use an electronic device late at night, use night mode/dark mode. This way you’ll reduce the negative effects of screen time before bed because your device’s screen will emit less blue light.

FAQs

Technology and Sleep - FAQs

Is it bad to use technology before bed?

As we’ve already discussed above, using technology before bedtime can have a series of negative effects on our slumber. Since electronic gadgets, such as smartphones and laptops, emit blue light, they suppress the release of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. Additionally, they can keep us awake because we may get absorbed in engaging content or get stressed over a work-related matter. The article above covers in great detail the relationship between sleep and technology, as well as how we can overcome its bad sides.

Why sleeping with the TV on is bad?

Just like other electronic devices, your television is the source of blue light, which can mess up with our internal clock and wake-sleep cycle. Another reason you shouldn’t sleep with your TV on is that sudden noise coming from it can easily wake you. Even when you can’t remember hearing loud sounds, they can disturb your slumber and you are likely to wake up tired and unrested.

Is using your phone at night bad?

Short answer—yes. The blue light coming from your phone’s screen can delay sleep onset, so you won’t be able to fall asleep quickly. You can also delay your bedtime since it’s easy to get sucked in your social media feed or an exciting video game. You can read more about cell phones and sleep above.

Is it bad to sleep with your phone charging next to you?

Besides the negative effects that it can have on your sleep due to unexpected sounds and wi-fi signals, charging your phone in bed can be very dangerous. Since the phone can overheat while being connected to a charger, there’s a risk of your bedding catching fire. Therefore, always charge your phone on a firm surface and make sure your charger is not damaged.

Is sleeping with a light on bad?

Since exposure to light plays an important role in regulating our biological clock, sleeping with a light on may interfere with our sleep. Therefore, it’s recommended to sleep in a dark environment.

Does sleeping with a night light cause depression?

According to a study conducted at Ohio State University, being exposed to too much light at night may cause depression. The researchers observed mice that were exposed to light for 24 hours a day and mice that were in a room with a normal light-dark cycle. They noticed that the former showed more symptoms of depression than the latter.

How long before bed should you turn off electronics?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, you should turn off all electronic gadgets at least half an hour before bedtime. Of course, the earlier, the better, but it’s important to set a realistic limit so you can stick to it.

How can I improve my sleep?

It’s vital that you understand the connection between electronics and sleep. Knowing all the ways tech disrupts your sleep, and ultimately affects your quality of life, will make it easier for you to stop using devices before bedtime. Instead, create a bedtime routine that will help you unwind after a long and probably stressful day.

Conclusion

All kinds of technological innovations are here to make our lives easier. Some help us complete our daily tasks more efficiently, others help us feel more comfortable. So it’s perfectly normal that we rely on technology both at work and at home. However, we have to know when it’s enough.

Most of us are glued to a computer screen at work, and then we come home where we swap our computer for a mobile phone, tablet, or TV. However, as our bedtime approaches, we should reduce the use of electronics since recent research on technology and sleep has shown that our electronic devices can definitely interfere with our night’s rest.

As a result, we don’t get enough quality sleep that is absolutely necessary for normal daytime functioning. Additionally, sleep deprivation can have serious consequences on our health that we shouldn’t ignore.

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