One third of Americans average less than 6 hours of sleep a night, which is significantly less than 15 years ago. Technology might be one of the reasons why.
Think about your typical nighttime routine: You’ve showered, brushed your teeth, changed into pajamas, and now you’re climbing into bed. First, you need to plug in your phone, though. The screen lights up, and you have a few notifications. So you check them, and then you check your email before finally making your rounds with social media.
Before you know it, 45 minutes have passed. Not only are you still not asleep, you’re not even tired anymore. Ninety percent of Americans have found themselves in a similar situation when using technology before bed.
Before we get into the impact of technology on our restfulness, let’s briefly discuss how sleep works. Our bodies follow a natural clock called a circadian rhythm. Think of it as an alarm clock that tells your body when it is time to get up and go to bed.
When it gets dark, your eyes recognize that it is time to go to sleep, which sends a signal to your brain to tell your body that it should be tired. Your body then releases melatonin, a hormone that helps balance wakefulness and sleepiness. If this natural circadian rhythm gets disrupted, your sleep suffers.
Outside factors can affect this “clock”, including those from technology. Technology can disrupt your circadian rhythm by exposing your body to various forms of light during times when your body should be prepping for bedtime. Below, we explore this concept, as well as other ways technology in the bedroom affects sleep.
Can you imagine actually going to sleep when the sun goes down and waking up as it rises? Believe it or not, our bodies are meant to work that way. That is, until artificial light entered the scene. Artificial light, which comes from overhead lights, lamps, candles, and even your television, has shifted our daily schedules so that we are awake longer at night — for better or worse.
Studies show that exposure to artificial light interrupts your natural circadian rhythm. Once your body is exposed to light, your brain sends a signal to decrease melatonin production. Reduction in melatonin then leads to poor sleep quality and daytime fatigue.
It is not just light in general that is the problem; blue light, in particular, tells our brains it is time to be awake. Blue light comes from smartphones, tablets, laptops, and computer monitors. Studies show the strongest wavelengths for our natural body clocks in the electromagnetic spectrum are blue.
Noise pollution is essentially any sound that can get in the way of sleep. For many people, a quiet room is a necessary part of their sleep environment, but many people tend to fall asleep with the television on or with their phones’ alert sound on.
Both of these things can affect your sleep negatively. Studies show noise pollution can lead to sleep disruption and insomnia.
Just because it is time for us to go to sleep does not mean the world stops. Fomo, defined as the fear of missing out, is a term that has become more relevant in recent years. Between a 24/7 news cycle and widespread use of social media, the need to constantly stay up to date on the latest happenings has negatively impacted society, particularly when it comes to sleep.
Social media can be wildly addictive – research estimates over 210 million people worldwide experience social media addiction – since it triggers the release of the brain's “feel-good” chemical known as dopamine[7, 8]. Pair that with the fact that 71 percent of Americans sleep with their phones within arms reach, and it’s no wonder people are getting less and less sleep.
Plus, that blue light we talked about earlier can confuse our brains as to what time it is, making it difficult to rest long after we log off for the night.
The impact of electronics before bed is even worse for children. Rest is crucial for their minds and bodies to develop properly. However, children are unfortunately among the largest consumers of tech.
In a survey of parents of children aged 8 to 17, researchers found that children who played video games or watched television before bed got 30 minutes less sleep, and those who used a phone or the computer reported 60 minutes less sleep and more difficulty falling asleep.
At a time where 40 percent of children have phones by the time they are in fifth grade and 42.4 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 10 have a television in their bedroom, limiting technological use before (and after) bed is more important than ever.
Bullying has always existed, but children with tech may struggle to escape it. A study from the University at Buffalo found that 15 percent of teenagers are bullied online. These teens are more likely to experience depression, which then leads to negative changes in sleep patterns.
We cannot always control what media our children are exposed to, and this rings even more true when it comes to technology. A recent study showed that among thousands of children, TV content appeared frequently in nightmares for nearly a third of the children.
Try to keep an eye on the material your children are taking in, especially before bed.
The best way to create a tech-free bedroom is to — surprise, surprise – remove technology from the bedroom. This may be difficult to implement for some, so start by making small adjustments. Instead of putting your phone on the nightstand right next to your bed, think about placing it across the room.
If you find yourself impulsively checking social media, turn your phone on Airplane Mode (or turn off cellular data and WiFi if you need to receive emergency calls) so that your phone cannot connect to the Internet.
The American Academy of Pediatrics even suggests setting a digital curfew for your family to avoid tech from interfering with rest. The earlier the better — putting phones and other electronics away three hours before bed is ideal.
If that is not something you think you can do, change your phone settings to “Night Mode,” where the screen turns into a warmer tone and decreases exposure to blue light at a certain time each day.
Are you someone who needs noise from the television to fall asleep? Consider using a white noise machine or fan instead. To eliminate other noise pollution, turn your phone on Do Not Disturb to avoid those pesky notifications. (If you use your phone as an alarm, Do Not Disturb mode should not affect it.)
Finally, the best way to create (and stick to) a tech-free bedroom is to follow a relaxing bedtime ritual that gets you ready for bed. Below are a few suggestions you can include in your nighttime routine:
Technology is not all bad. In fact, some tech may actually improve your rest. When we say sleep technology, what we’re really referring to is any technology that’s designed to help your sleep, not hurt it.
This can come in the form of white noise machines, which help drown out unwanted noises, and are great for those who live in cities or just need sound to fall asleep. Another popular form of sleep tech is blue-light blocking glasses, which should be worn for a few hours before bed to prevent blue light from interfering with your natural circadian rhythm.
Sunrise alarms are gaining popularity — rather than waking up to a shrieking alarm clock, a gentle light gets brighter and brighter, helping your body wake more naturally. The exposure to gentle light also plays into your circadian rhythm. Your body enjoys being exposed to light almost immediately upon waking.
Sleep trackers, which are used with a smartwatch or smartphone app, track the quality and amount of rest you get each night. However, we do want to mention that for some, this data can be more stressful than helpful, so keep that in mind. (Yes, sleep tracker-induced insomnia is a real thing).
We’re not underscoring the fact that technology has brought some incredible inventions into our lives. However, there’s no denying that nighttime technology use can get in the way of our sleep. Children specifically suffer from the effects of late-night tech, and those hours of sleep can add up quickly.
That doesn’t mean your sleep has to suffer, though. By creating a tech-free bedroom, replacing evening activities with fulfilling hobbies, and following a relaxing bedtime ritual, you can avoid the detrimental effects technology has on rest.
The bottom line? Remove technology from the bedroom and watch your sleep improve.
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