Unplugged for Better Sleep?
How Technology is Keeping Us All Up

Getting Notifications While Sleeping Animation

You have showered, brushed your teeth, stepped into your cozy sweats (you know, the ones with the holes in the knees you just can not bear to throw away), and now you are climbing into bed ready to go to sleep in mere minutes. 

 

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 really quick (because why not?) and then social media.

 

Then—whoops—you remember that you forgot to text your brother “Happy Birthday,” and then you two chat for a bit. Before you know it, it is 45 minutes later, and you are still not asleep. In fact, you are not even tired anymore.

 

I will be honest, I have been there too many times to count, sweats and all.

Actually, 90 percent of Americans have found themselves in a similar situation, using technology during the hour before bed.

Americans sleep 1 to 2 hours less than they did 40 years ago, and technology might be one of the reasons why.


Section 1

How Did the Cavemen Do It?


Section 2

How Sleep Works


Section 3

And Then There Was Light…


Section 4

Noise Pollution in the Bedroom


Section 5

The 24/7 Newscycle and Unnecessary Bedtime Stress


Section 6

Is It Worse for Kids?


Section 7

Is Some Technology Good for ZZZs?


Section 8

How Long Before Bed Should Your Family Turn off Electronics?


Section 9

Alternative Nighttime Activities


Section 10

Conclusion

How Did the Cavemen Do It?


Thousands of years ago, days were ruled by the sun. When the sun goes up, it is time to wake up, and when the sun sets, it is bedtime. Cavemen did not have the comfortable luxuries that we have now—like pillows and mattresses—but they sure had a lot more discipline when it comes to sleep.

 

Honestly, it is probably much easier to have a good sleep routine without the distraction of television, phones, and even books for that matter. But there is definitely something to learn from the sleep habits of our ancestors.

Illustration of A Caveman Holding a Phone up to His Face

How Sleep Works


Before we get into the impact of technology on our restfulness, let’s touch a bit on how sleep actually works. Our bodies follow a natural clock called a circadian rhythm. It is kind of like an alarm clock that tells your body when it is time to get up and time to go to bed.

 

You may have noticed that you wake up and get tired around the same time every day. That is your body’s rhythm! Some outside factors affect this “clock,” including light.

 

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.

Multi frame Graphic Of A Sun Going Down

Some things throw off your circadian rhythm. If you have ever traveled to a different time zone, you know that it takes some time for your body to adjust. Other things like working the night shift or daylight savings time can affect our natural clocks, and, the more we research, the more we find that technology is interrupting our rest as well.

And Then There Was Light…

Artificial Light and 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. Artificial light has shifted our daily schedules to allow us to stay up longer at night — for better or worse.

 

Artificial lights can trick your brain into thinking it is still daytime, and from what we learned about sleep, we know that our body produces melatonin during the night as it gets dark. While electricity has made a ton of daily tasks easier, it can be problematic compounded with the amount of time we spend in front of screens before bed.


Blue Light Keeps You Awake

It is not just light in general that is the problem; blue light, in particular, tells our brains it is time to be awake. (No wonder the sky is blue!) Actually, the strongest wavelengths for our natural body clocks in the electromagnetic spectrum are blue, as shown in a study published in Chronobiology International.

Twenty volunteers were randomly assigned to wear either amber or yellow-tinted glasses for three hours before going to bed; amber blocks blue light, and yellow-tinted glasses only block ultraviolet light. The results showed that those wearing amber glasses had significantly improved rest than the other group.

 

What can we do about this? The best answer is to put our phones or computers away for a few hours before sleep. If that is not something you think you can do, check out your phone’s settings; many devices now have a “Night Mode,” where the screen turns into a warmer tone and decreases exposure to blue light at a certain time each day.

Noise Pollution in the Bedroom

Don't Disturb Sign On Cell Phone Illustration

Noise pollution is essentially any sound that can get in the way of night 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 in the background or with their phones’ alert sound on.

 

Both of these things can affect your sleep negatively—to rest well, we need consistency from the time we go to bed to the time we wake up. Televisions are constantly making different noises, and phone alerts are unpredictable.

 

If you need noise to fall asleep, consider a white noise machine or fan that will continue throughout the night. 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.)

The 24/7 Newscycle and Unnecessary Bedtime Stress

News

Just because it is time for us to go to sleep does not mean the world stops. There is no shortage of news, and if you wanted to catch it all, you would be up for the rest of your life.

 

The 24/7 news situation has changed completely. It is not just the 5 o’clock news anymore; it’s the 5:15 news, the 5:45, the 6:05, the 7:02…you get the point. News is everywhere, and since the Internet has come along, we are bombarded by news stories daily.

Constant Stream of Notifications and News On Tablet Illustration

It is not so bad to be connected to what is going on around the world, but the fact that there is a constant stream of “newsworthy” information out there can be detrimental, especially when paired with the scrolling mentality that has been encouraged by social media. Plus, reading something that is particularly thought-provoking may keep you up later than you would like.

Social Media

Oh, social media—it is safe to say that most people have a love/hate relationship with it. Keeping up with friends and family from around the world has really changed the way that we communicate and how information is spread.

 

I have found myself compulsively pulling up Instagram or Reddit when opening my phone just out of habit—and it’s not just me. Some research has estimated that over 210 million people worldwide suffer from social media addiction. Pair that with the fact that 71 percent of Americans sleep with their phones within arms reach, and we may have a problem.

Where Do You Keep Your Phone While Sleep Chart

Social media, in design, is made to be addictive. Scrolling down your front page is infinite, and you can never run out of articles to read, quizzes to take, or people to stalk. Time can easily get away from you if you check your phone before bed, meaning that bedtime can get pushed later and later.

 

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.

Intrusive Work

You may think that answering a couple of work emails before bed is no big deal, but in reality, it could make it difficult to sleep, especially when reading something that could potentially be stress-inducing.

 

Dr. Dan Naim of the Los Angeles Sleep Study Institute has some thoughts about using certain tech before bed:

“While most of us need to use cellphones and computers, it’s best to keep these distractions to a minimum at night, when we’re supposed to wind down and prepare for sleep.” Naim said. “Keeping a cell phone by your bed at night may not be the best way to ensure a good night’s rest and could lower your productivity the next day.”

Answering those emails might actually make your workday tomorrow less productive. (So if your boss complains, send him over to this page!)

A Woman In a Bed Looking at Her Phone in the Dark Illustration

WiFi Interference

WiFi Router Radiation Illustration

Although there is limited research about the effects of WiFi on our health, there is some research that may suggest that it can interfere with sleep patterns.

 

A 2007 study tested a group of participants for sleep issues when randomly assigned to use either real phones that emit electromagnetic radiation or fake phones in ‘talk’, ‘listen’, and ‘standby’ modes. Each mode emitted at different strengths, with ‘talk’ being the highest. Researchers found that participants using the phones in ‘talk’ mode took a longer amount of time to fall asleep at night.

 

Other research has shown that interacting with WiFi compatible devices, such as tablets and phones, can cause sleep disorders and possibly even depression and anxiety. Whether this is just an association with the devices themselves or the WiFi is something that needs to be further discussed and researched.

Is It Worse for Kids?


Asleep Kid Dreaming of Himself Playing Video Game

The impact of electronics before bed is even worse for children—while their minds and bodies are developing, rest is extremely crucial. However, children are among the largest consumers of tech.

In a survey of the parents of 234 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. Many children also used some form of technology in the middle of the night.

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.

School Stress

Children’s circadian rhythms are already strained during the school year, especially teenagers. Naturally, teens tend to get tired later in the night, but they still require 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night. When school starts around 8 o’clock, as many do, it is nearly impossible to get all the rest that they need.

 

Bring in screen time before bed and their rhythms can be pushed back even more—not to mention homework and after school activities.


Bullying

We have come to a new age, where children are growing up never knowing a time without social media. Unfortunately, with social media sometimes comes cyberbullying. A study from the University at Buffalo found that 15 percent of teenagers reported being bullied online, and these teens are more likely to experience sleeping problems, which can lead to depression.

 

Bullying has always existed, but children with tech may struggle to escape it.


Frightening Movies/Material

We cannot always control what media our children are exposed to, and at one point or another, they will probably come across something that scares them. And children, especially the younger ones, have vivid imaginations. Frightening images can create some sleep issues or cause nightmares for some kids.

 

Try to keep an eye on the material your children are taking in, especially before bed.

Is Some Technology Good for ZZZs?

Technology is not all bad; in fact, some tech can actually improve your rest. White noise machines, as mentioned above, can help drown out unwanted noises that can interrupt rest, great for those who live in noisy cities or just need sound to fall asleep.

 

Blue-light blocking glasses worn for a few hours before bed can help sleep disruptions as well.

 

Wake-up lights 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.

Sleep trackers, using a smartwatch or a phone app, can help you practice good sleep habits and track the quality and amount of rest you get each night. For some, this can be more stressful than helpful, so keep that in mind.

Sleep App on Mobile

How Long Before Bed Should Your Family Turn off Electronics?

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests setting a digital curfew for your family to avoid any possible interference with a good rest. The earlier the better — three hours before bed is ideal. However, you know your family best; even 30 minutes before bed is better than nothing.

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.

Some families find that turning in their electronics for the night works best for them. Parents collect all phones, tablets, and computers at a certain time and put them away to avoid middle-of-the-night distractions. This no-tech time can be a great time for family bonding.

Alternative Nighttime Activities

Less night-time screentime may be better for your health, but what should you do instead? Wondering what to do without a nightly Netflix binge? Crack open that dusty book on your nightstand or pick up a new hobby!

7 Ways To Unplug Your Nighttime Routine Infographic

Play a Board Game

A little friendly competition never hurt anybody! A game of Uno or Sorry! can bring the family together. If you have a particularly competitive family, maybe choose a cooperative game that everyone can play together.

Go on a Walk

Enjoying the great outdoors is good for the soul, especially with those you love. Going for a walk around the neighborhood can spark conversation—plus, it’s an easy way to get some exercise!

Grab a Treat

Get some ice cream, cookies, or shaved ice! You don’t have to leave the house either; get in the kitchen and make some cookies together. It is sure to bring smiles and leave some lasting memories.

Get Outside

Throwing around a frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, or playing catch is fun and can help get that heart pumping before bed.

Pick Up a Book

Either read a book as a family or designate a family reading time where everyone can read a book of their choice.

Make Some Music

Even if you don’t know how to play a musical instrument, you can always learn; that’s what music classes are for! Listening to some music might just turn into a family dance party.

Garden

Gardening takes a lot of effort, so it’s the perfect way to fill those tech-free hours before bed. It can be extremely rewarding, and your kids will love to watch their fruits and veggies grow!

Play a Board Game

A little friendly competition never hurt anybody! A game of Uno or Sorry! can bring the family together. If you have a particularly competitive family, maybe choose a cooperative game that everyone can play together.

Conclusion


Technology has brought some incredible inventions into our lives (refrigeration, anyone?), but in some forms, it can get in the way of our sleep. Children specifically suffer from the effects of late-night tech, and those hours of sleep they lose can add up quickly. 

 

So tonight, rather than flipping on the television or catching up on social media, think about turning off your electronics early. You might just find that spending some time in the real world can be more rewarding than the virtual world.

<span style="border-left: 6px solid #f4772c; padding-left:10px;">Jess</span> Carpenter
Jess Carpenter

Jess is only serious about a few things in life: sleeping, writing, and making the perfect chocolate chip cookie. In her free time, you’ll probably find her having a dance-off to ‘80s pop with her family or watching scary movies with her cat, Waffles.

Sleep Advisor