Sleeping in the Smartphone Era

We spend a lot of time with our smartphones, and it may be affecting our quality of sleep each night. Alongside smartphone usage, sleep deprivation rates have been skyrocketing in recent years. This is likely due in part to the fact that at least 95 percent of people use some sort of electronic device before bed. Here are just a few of the ways that modern technology is making an impact on how we sleep.

Screens Disrupt Your Bedtime Routine

It can be tempting to wind down before bed with a quick session on your smartphone, but games, social media, and more can end up disrupting your sleep schedule. Engaging your brain right before bed, especially if you’re excited or emotional, can end up triggering hormonal responses that will keep you feeling awake and alert.

Sounds from your phone can also disrupt a full night’s sleep. Calls, texts, and social media notifications can pull you out of deep sleep cycles that are critical to body repair and maintenance. Even if you don’t awaken completely, this can still affect your REM and non-REM sleep patterns and leave you feeling exhausted the next day. Still, around one-fifth of all adults keep their ringer on throughout the night.

Using screens in bed, whether you’re texting on your phone or watching a late-night movie, can trigger a learned association that the bed is a place for work, play, and socializing instead of sleep. You should keep your daytime activities confined to a couch or desk, and reserve the bedroom for sleep only. This will help strengthen the association between bed and bedtime in your head, making it easier to fall asleep at night.

The Impact on a Kid’s Sleep Schedule

It isn’t just adults that are losing sleep thanks to modern technology. Kids are also susceptible to insomnia related to using electronic devices before bed. Even just the presence of a screen in a child’s room has been shown to affect sleep patterns.

While TV tends to be the main culprit for most young children, more and more kids are also being kept up by using smartphones in the late hours.

The Impact on Teen’s Sleep Schedule

Screen-related sleep deprivation is a particular problem amongst today’s teens. Teenagers tend to need more sleep than other age groups to function, and many of them already have trouble with insomnia. Only around 15% of teens are getting the full eight-and-a-half hours of sleep that they should be getting each night.

Throwing smartphones into the mix can lead to some severely sleep-deprived teens struggling to concentrate in school throughout the day. Over three-quarters of teenagers admit to using their smartphones without their parents’ knowledge when they’re supposed to be sleeping.

Blue Light Suppresses Melatonin

image6Photo by Youssef Sarhan

Smartphones, laptops, and other electronic devices with screens tend to emit blue light, which is one of the shortest and brightest wavelengths on the visible spectrum. When it hits our eye, it mimics sunlight, convincing our body that it’s daytime out.

Spending time at night staring into a blue screen scrambles up your circadian rhythm, which is the internal clock that determines your sleep-wake cycle. It does this using melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland. Melatonin levels are lowest during the day, rising as it begins to get darker outside and peaking during midnight.

Blue light restricts or shuts down melatonin production, preventing us from falling asleep. Staring at a computer or smartphone almost acts as a “reset” button at night, convincing your brain that it needs to be awake and alert.

Staying Plugged in Increases Anxiety

It’s no secret that anxiety makes it harder to sleep. It can be tough to settle down and relax after a stressful day at home or the office. Smartphones can compound on this stress, whether you’re watching an intense movie, playing an exciting game, or responding to emails.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, your body responds physically by releasing cortisol into the bloodstream. At the same time, you also essentially shut down melatonin production. While this “fight or flight” response used to come in handy back when we had to flee from predators, these days, it mostly serves as an inconvenience that makes it difficult to relax and nearly impossible to sleep.

For some people, simply spending time away from their phone can cause separation anxiety or even withdrawal-like symptoms. This can make it difficult to fall asleep at night, especially for those who feel compelled to keep checking their phone. Like any addiction, excessive smartphone use can quickly chip away at your quality of life.

The Impact of Insomnia on Health

image5Photo by Charles Deluvio

A good night’s sleep is essential for both your mental and physical health. Insufficient sleep has been linked to a number of different health conditions in adults, including:

  • Memory Impairments: Sleep gives your body a chance to consolidate and connect information learned throughout the day, affecting both short-term and long-term memory.
  • Trouble Concentrating: In addition to impairing memory, sleep deprivation also makes it difficult to focus and can make activities such as driving or operating machinery more dangerous.
  • Depression and Anxiety: Without enough sleep, you may experience fluctuations in mood. Chronic insomnia can lead to more severe symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • A Weakened Immune System: Sleep is vital for maintaining a healthy immune system. Without it, you’re more susceptible to catching germs and bugs.
  • High Blood Pressure: People who sleep between just five and six hours a night have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure. This also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Obesity: Insomnia can affect levels of the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which are involved in telling your body that it’s full. This can lead to overeating and weight gain.
  • Type II Diabetes: In addition to encouraging weight gain, a lack of sleep can also affect insulin levels and increase your risk of developing diabetes.

The health effects of a poor sleep schedule can be even more drastic for developing minds and bodies. Both children and teenagers who don’t get enough sleep each night can suffer from issues such as:

  • Poor School Performance: Sleep deprivation makes it difficult to process and retain information for school-aged children, resulting in lower grades.
  • Lethargy: Part of being a kid is getting outside and running around, but this can be tough for a sleep-deprived body. Tired kids have trouble engaging with others during playtime, recess, and sports games.
  • Social Isolation: Without a full night’s sleep, it can be hard to pay attention and hold a conversation. This makes it a challenge to make friends in school.
  • Mood Swings: Most parents know that kids can be moody at the best of times, but things can get out of hand after a few nights of insufficient sleep. Insomnia can lead to sad, angry, or even hyperactive children.
  • Bad decisions: A lack of sleep, much like alcohol, can affect impulse control, especially in teenagers. This can result in reckless decision-making and potentially long-lasting consequences.

What to Do About Sleep Loss

If you find that your smartphone is affecting your sleep schedule, it might be time to make some changes. After all, a better night’s sleep will help you to start your day feeling fresh. Luckily, there are several ways that you can change your smartphone habits to improve your sleep schedule.

Dim the Screen at Night

When using your phone after dark, you should turn down the brightness setting. Doing so will help your eyes to adjust and get your brain in “nighttime mode,” ensuring that you’ll be able to fall asleep easier later. If you’re reading, try reversing the typesetting to white text on a black background.

Limit Screen Time

image1Photo by Bailey Torres

It can be easy to get lost in your phone before bedtime, and so you should take steps to ensure that you’re not staring at screens for too long each night. Try to limit your screen time after the sun goes down, including your smartphone, your TV, and your computer. Instead, try reading a book or taking a bath.

Cut Back on Social Media

For many of us, social media consumes a large portion of our day. Taking selfies, making updates, and responding to friends and followers can have us spending hours at a time staring at our phones. If you’re trying to cut back on your smartphone usage, one of your first steps should be to reduce your social media presence. Doing this will not only help you to limit screen time but also reduce your stress levels.

Avoid Your Phone Before Bed

It’s a good idea to cut yourself off from screen time at least thirty to sixty minutes before you plan to go to bed. If possible, you should remove electronics from your room entirely when you sleep and silence phone notifications.

Set an Example

Parents can help their kids to avoid screens before bed by setting a good example themselves. Technology curfews should be enforced family-wide. Instead of letting the kids watch TV before bed, try reading to them or playing a family board game to wind down in the evening.

Solutions to Look Forward To

The latest models of phones, computers, and other mobile devices offer features that are designed to address the issue of sleep deprivation. Smartphone makers are heavily invested in finding new and innovative ways to make sure that their products won’t have a negative impact on a user’s lifestyle. There are several new and upcoming technologies that are helping to tackle to issue of insomnia amongst smartphone owners.

Sleep Analysis

Mobile devices are making it easier than ever to keep an eye on your health. In addition to fitness and nutrition apps, sleep tracker apps help you to maintain a balanced lifestyle.

image4Photo by Crew

Smartphone apps link up to wearable devices via the cloud and monitor things such as heart rate and breathing pattern while you sleep. Over time, this data can show you issues that you might be having falling or staying asleep, helping you to take the first step towards healthier sleeping habits.

Personalized Scheduling

Mobile apps are also helping people to reorganize their sleep schedule. Advanced algorithms can help you to determine the best time of day to go to bed based on daylight hours and your unique circadian rhythm. This can make it easier to adapt to changes in your schedule, such as flying to a new time zone or working odd hours.

Alternative Backlighting

Because blue light disrupts melatonin production and inhibits sleep, many electronics manufacturers are looking for ways to selectively eliminate blue wavelengths from screens. That way, users can adjust settings at night to avoid tricking their brain.

More and more devices are including a “night mode” where the screen shifts from a cool blue to a warmer red or yellow light. According to a study done by researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, orange tones that block out blue wavelengths are less likely to keep you up at night. It’s best to switch to night mode shortly after sundown to reduce strain on your eyes.

If you have an older device that doesn’t offer a nighttime backlight setting, there are apps for mobile devices and laptops that are designed to reduce blue light wavelengths. You can also find free software programs such as f.lux. If these apps don’t do the trick, specialized screen protectors may be a better option.

Less Screen Time Leads to Better Sleep

image3Photo by bruce mars

Spending time on your smartphone, especially before bed, can have a significant impact on your quality of sleep. It makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep, which can make your performance at home or work suffer. Sleep deprivation also takes its toll on developing minds, causing kids and teens to fall back in school.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, it may help to cut back on your smartphone usage. By avoiding electronics before bed, you’ll be able to fall asleep more easily. Not only that, but you’ll get to enjoy a deeper, more peaceful night’s sleep.

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