What does your nighttime routine look like? If you are like most people, it probably includes at least one of the following activities: watching television, sending texts, checking email, playing video games, browsing the internet, or posting on social media. Technology has become ever-present in our lives. It consumes our time, from our first waking moment until those last few minutes when we lay the phone on the nightstand and try to fall asleep. But as we are learning, technology impacts getting a good night’s sleep in ways you may not be aware of.
Researchers are spending more and more time studying how technology impacts your sleep. From this research, we now know a great deal about how technology impacts sleep from a biological, psychological and behavioral standpoint. Today we are sharing insights into how technology impacts your sleep and what you can do to avoid falling victim.
Technology Use before Bedtime Is Widespread
A 2011 study by the National Sleep Foundation proves what we all know anecdotally to be true—that more and more people are using technology before bedtime. From a nationally representative survey of 1,508 participants, they found that 95 percent use some type of electronics an hour or less before trying to sleep. The type of technology differs by age (with baby boomers more likely to watch television and younger generations more likely to text or surf the internet); however, the research makes it clear how widespread technology use is at nighttime.
The researchers also found links between technology use and reported sleep problems. For example, those who text or use a computer/laptop before bed are less likely to report that they get a good night’s sleep, more likely to be categorized as ‘sleepy’ on the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, and more likely to engage in drowsy driving.
5 Ways Technology Impacts Your Sleep
Other research can explain exactly why technology at night harms our sleep. Here are some of the main reasons.
1. Decrease in Melatonin
As we mentioned in our article 6 Ways to Fight Afternoon Fatigue, our sleep-wake cycle is regulated by the circadian rhythm. This involves the rise fall of hormone levels: cortisol which wakes us up and melatonin which makes us sleepy. Research has found that bright light from our devices—particularly blue wavelengths that come from the LED lighting used in electronics—decreases melatonin levels, causing us not to feel sleepy. This means we are not getting the signal that it is time for sleep, and when we go to bed, it is hard to drift off.
2. Cognitive Stimulation
Another reason technology impacts sleep is that it stimulates brain activity. Those few hours before bed should be spent winding down and preparing for sleep. When you are interacting with technology, your brain is still ‘on,’ processing information and emotions, making decisions, etc. Researchers speculate that active technological activities (those things that require movement, like video games and texting) are more harmful to sleep than passive activities (such as watching tv or reading an e-book), but they all have their consequences regarding cognitive stimulation.
3. Disrupting Your Sanctuary
Sleep experts say that you should keep your bedroom a sanctuary for sleep since good sleep requires the right environment. When you are checking work emails or playing video games or chatting on messenger, your bedroom becomes not a place for relaxation and sleep but rather a place for work/entertainment/socializing. These mental cues can impact us even when we do not realize it.
4. Staying Up Late
It is very easy to become engrossed in technology; while playing a video game or app, or even scrolling through Facebook you can lose all track of time and stay up later than you expected. You may even purposely ignore your bedtime because you are having so much fun or are waiting for a text from a friend.
5. It Can Disturb Sleep
When you do finally fall asleep, keeping the phone beside you means the chance for interruptions—a late call, the ping of a new text message, and even the temptation to check social media because of the ‘fear of missing out’ and the fact that the phone is so close. The previously mentioned National Sleep Foundation study found that nearly one out of four people do not put their phones on silent, and 10 percent are awakened several nights a week because of phone calls, texts, and emails.
5 Tips for Stepping Away from the Screen Before Bed
If you have made technology your nightly habit, it may sound difficult to change. In fact, it may even feel uncomfortable for you. However, give yourself credit—you DO have the power to change your habits! And those changes will mean big improvements in your sleep patterns and also how you feel the next day. Here are some tips:
- Shut down your technology at least an hour before you go to sleep.
- Do something else instead, something that will calm you and help you shut down your mind and your body. Our article 5 Sleep Habits of Successful People will give you some ideas.
- Create a sleep schedule where you go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. If you have trouble falling asleep at your bedtime, check out our tips in this article on sleep and stress.
- Ideally, you should leave your devices outside of the bedroom.
- Instead of using your phone as an alarm, get a ‘real’ alarm clock (yes, they do still sell them!). This way, if you do need to bring your phone into the bedroom, you can set it on silent or vibrate so that you will not be disturbed.
Try these habit changes, and you will see how much better you can think, feel and look after getting a good night’s sleep! There’s plenty of time during the day to play with screens; don’t forget to take an hour or two at night to prepare yourself for sleep.