How Does Technology Affect Sleep?

Fact-Checked

Written By: Matthew Whittle
Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Sherrie Neustein

 

Technology helps facilitate education, communication, and entertainment, and technological devices have become a crucial element of navigating daily life. However, they may interrupt or negatively impact sleeping patterns.

We discuss some of the common ways that technology can interfere with your rest, along with some helpful tips to limit technology use for better sleep.

How Does Technology Affect Sleep?

Studies indicate that screen time before bed can increase the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, reduce sleep quality, and affect attentiveness the following day. In the long term, nightly exposure to light in the evening may increase the risk of certain sleep disorders and cancers.

The severity of technology’s impact on sleep may depend on the device and type of use. For example, studies indicate that passive use of technology, such as watching a show or listening to music on a device, has less of an effect on sleep than active use, like playing an interactive game, texting, or video chatting.

Sleep is a critical aspect of health. One study found that children who watched more television, used a computer, played video games, or used their cell phones before bedtime not only experienced disruptions to sleep quality and quantity, but were also more likely to be overweight. These children were also more likely to feel tired in the morning and skip breakfast, a habit that has been linked to weight gain. Obesity can increase the likelihood of experiencing obstructive sleep apnea, which disrupts sleep and can lead to morning headaches.

The reasons for which technology is detrimental to sleep include blue light exposure, stimulating content, and reduced sleep time.

Blue Light

The human sleep-wake cycle is regulated by the sun. When darkness falls, the body releases melatonin, a hormone that induces sleepiness. During the daytime, melatonin production stops and alertness levels increase in response to light. The human body is most sensitive to blue light, which is the type of light used for most modern screen-based devices.

One study compared the sleep patterns of individuals who read a book before bedtime. One set of subjects read printed books, while the other group used e-readers that emitted blue light. The results indicated that the participants using light-emitting e-readers took longer to fall asleep, experienced poorer-quality sleep, and reported feeling less alert the following morning.

Household LED lights also emit blue light. Though we do not stare directly into them like phones and other devices, it is important to dim other bedroom lights or switch to warm lighting to reduce exposure to blue light before sleeping.

Stimulating Content

Certain types of content may have a stronger impact on sleep. For example, studies have found that exciting or violent video games increase heart rate, make it harder to fall asleep, and impair sleep quality.

Reduced Sleep Time

In addition to the effects of blue light and stimulating content, technology use may cut into time that is usually reserved for sleep. Sleep hygiene recommendations usually advise against using the bed for anything else except sleep.

How Long Before Bed Should I Stop Using My Phone and Other Electronics?

Experts recommend that children and teens keep screens out of the bedroom and aim to stop using electronic devices 30 to 60 minutes before bed. These recommendations are a good place to start for adults as well.

For some, eliminating screens from the bedroom may not be possible due to work or family commitments. However, it is important to set a distinct time between device use and sleep. If you do keep your device in your room, consider turning off lights and silencing notifications.

Tips for a Better Bedtime Routine

Humans need consistent sleep each night to maintain their overall health. To achieve restful sleep, try creating a bedtime routine. Maintaining consistent habits each night can help you reach a more relaxed state and facilitate a smooth transition to sleep. There are several key elements to a productive bedtime routine.

Establish a Consistent Pre-Bedtime Relaxation Activity

Whether it is taking a bath, meditating, or completing a yoga routine, performing the same activity each night before going to bed can prepare you for restful sleep.

Stick to the Same Schedule

Maintaining a set time to fall asleep and wake up helps keep your bedtime routine consistent. One study indicated that individuals who kept the same sleep schedule and reduced their exposure to blue light in the evening fell asleep more quickly and reported better sleep quality than a group with an inconsistent sleep schedule.

Avoid Wake-Promoting Substances in the Evening

Smoking, alcohol, and caffeine can disturb your ability to fall and remain asleep. Though it may seem like alcohol can help you sleep at night, research suggests that the substance disturbs sleepers later in the night.

When you are ready for bed, ensure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and comfortably cool. If you are unable to sleep after half an hour, leave the bedroom and do a calming activity in low light until you feel sleepy again.

References

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