It’s hard to disengage from our cellphones. After all, they’re designed to fit seamlessly into every part of our lives. For many of us, they are a one-stop-shop for entertainment, communication, and the digital world as a whole. Their connection to us is so strong that many of us find it difficult to set down our phones for even short periods of time.
Unfortunately, new research shows that this constant need to use our phones might be particularly damaging around bed time, as using our cell-phones and other screens might be preventing us from truly getting the good night’s sleep that so many of us desperately need after our long and stressful days.
The backlit glow of our phones, tablets, and other devices is a godsend when we are outside and need the strong light to see our screens without any glare. However, this feature is not so beneficial when used in the dark right before bed, largely because of our bodies’ circadian rhythms.
A circadian rhythm is how the body adapts to changes in environment over a 24-hour cycle. Our bodies have evolved over millions of years to get sleepy when its dark out and to wake up and grow alert when exposed to light. This has allowed us to follow the normal rotation of the earth and remain productive during the day when it is light out. Our exposure to the artificial light coming from our devices has upset this rhythm, tricking our bodies and holding us back from reaching a deep state of sleep.
Furthermore, a study conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that the light that our devices emit can actually inhibit our body’s ability to naturally manufacture melatonin. Melatonin is a natural hormone that our bodies produce as a reaction to darkness. The hormone is released into the bloodstream and
makes us feel sleepier. The study tested two groups, one group reading before bed on an iPad and the other group from a printed book with a nightlight. After two weeks the groups were then switched. Researchers found that whoever was reading on the iPad had lower levels of melatonin and also spent less time in rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep, which is associated with restful sleep.
This problem is especially widespread, as the National Sleep Foundation has reported that almost 90 percent of adults had some sort of electronic device in their bedroom. Not only is the light from our screens preventing us from getting rest, but the buzzing and vibrating from our phones is also leaving us connected throughout the night and keeping us from dropping into deeper levels of REM sleep.
Besides leaving us groggy and tired throughout the day, not getting enough sleep can have some pretty dire health consequences. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity as possible diseases that can be caused from a lack of sleep. These diseases, along with other possible negative repercussions to not getting enough sleep, can really cause chronic long-term issues. They highlight the importance of taking steps to protect your sleep and make sure you are doing everything you can to achieve a great night’s sleep.
So what can you do to disconnect from your devices and get some more high-quality sleep? The first step is to leave your phones in another room before going to bed. You should also try to limit your screen use in the hour before you are planning to go to sleep. Instead, do something like reading a book or listening to music – these activities will relax you and put you in the proper state of mind to head to sleep. If it’s absolutely necessary for you to keep your phone near you at night, make sure its turned on silent, so that you won’t be woken up in the middle of the night, or otherwise disturbed. Just remember: your sleep is more important than those last minutes of screen time. Ditch the screen and save your sleep.
About Michael Weinberg
Michael Weinberg is a writer on The Path Editorial Team. He is a graduate of Tufts University. He is interested in how nutrition affects athletic performance and competes in triathlons and obstacle runs.