Losing Sleep for Screens: How Electronic Devices Affect Sleep
Losing sleep lately? Your screen exposure might be to blame. In this article, we take a closer look at how electronics affect sleep.
Extensive use of electronic devices can lead to a range of sleep problems.
Blue light emitted by electronics interferes with melatonin production, causing poor sleep.
You can "hack" your device to help you sleep better by installing a blue light blocking app or automating dark mode.
Did you know?
People tend to go to sleep later and sleep less right before a full moon. Extra light makes a big difference!
If you're turning and tossing in bed after hours of using your laptop or smartphone before bedtime, you may not need to look far to see what’s disrupting your sleep. Electronic gadgets have paved the way for convenient transactions and redefined how we experience human connection. But they weren’t designed with sleep health in mind. Several studies have shown that extensive electronics use is associated with shorter sleep, late onset of sleepiness, and/or poor sleep quality, for adolescents and adults.
One study showed that 70% of cellphone users keep their gadgets close while sleeping. And a similar study revealed that half of the participants spent the last hour before bed on active screen activities like social networking, surfing the internet, and watching videos.
So if you find it hard to stay off screens before bed, you’re not alone! Unfortunately, these common habits are bad news for our sleep, which is directly influenced by the light our eyes capture. Understanding more about the science behind screens and sleep may help you on your way to better rest.
A Lay-Down on the Sleep-Wake Cycle
The body's circadian rhythm influences our sleep-wake cycle, and it's regulated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), an area in the hypothalamus. The SCN is sensitive to the amount of light entering our eyes. During the day, sunlight, our primary source of light, sends a signal to the hypothalamus to produce the hormone cortisol, which makes you feel alert. This wakes you up and gets you ready for an active day!
As darkness falls, the light we see decreases, so the SCN signals the pineal gland to produce melatonin, the sleep hormone. Melatonin and cortisol represent just one small part of the body’s hormone system, which is delicately balanced to keep us functioning at our best. Exposure to screens and artificial lights at night can throw off that balance, since it disrupts the natural cycle of sunrise and sunset.
How Electronics Affect Sleep
Electronic devices emit blue light, and exposure to blue light at night suppresses melatonin production. This simply causes a delay in sleepiness in the short term. However, long-term, consistent nightly exposure to blue light leads to a broken sleep pattern. This means more sleep interruptions and less slow-wave sleep, which is crucial for body restoration and memory formation. Poor quality sleep can leave you feeling tired and groggy throughout the day, impeding your memory and learning.
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How to "Hack" Electronic Devices for More Sleep
The good news is, there are ways you can combat this groggy feeling! Putting away your phone before you sleep is one obvious solution, but that’s easier said than done – it takes time to break a habit.
While you’re working up to this goal, there are some steps you can take to make your screen time less harmful to your sleep hygiene. To reduce the negative impacts of blue light exposure, you can do the following:
- Install apps that alter the light emitted by your screens depending on the time of day.
- Adjust your phone settings to schedule night/dark mode. Go to Settings, click Brightness, and activate Night/Dark mode at least two hours before you turn in.
Other Tips to Help You Sleep Better
- Reduce screen time throughout the day. Extensive use of electronic devices can hurt your eyes and sleep. So, track your screen time to know if you're using them more than you want to. You may be surprised how many hours you spend mindlessly scrolling! You can use this data to figure out when you use your screens most, which may help you develop a plan to cut back on blue light exposure.
- Remove electronics from the bedroom. Smartphones and tablets can disrupt your sleep even when they’re switched off. Try to make your bedroom a space exclusively for sleep and relaxation. If your brain associates your bedroom with rest and relaxation, seeing your bed may make you sleepy right away.
- Invest in blue light filters and blue blocker glasses. Though they're not proven to reduce eye strain symptoms, blue-light glasses have been shown to improve sleep quality and quantity, especially in people with insomnia.
- Use a weighted blanket. A weighted blanket is a therapeutic tool designed to mimic the deep touch pressure (DTP). That means cocooning under your favorite Napper delivers the same soothing benefits you get from a warm hug! Additionally, weighted blankets help your body produce more serotonin and melatonin, setting you up for a restful night. If you’re new to weighted blankets, we recommend checking out our guide to discover what kind is right for you.