Written by: Reneé Prince
Updated March 12, 2021
Technology has become an essential part of our lives. From cell phones and tablets to computers and televisions, we are surrounded by screens from morning to night. However, these devices can interfere with our body’s natural cycles and reduce our ability to get quality sleep.
How Does Technology Affect Sleep?
Our bodies run on a circadian rhythm (1), which is a biological process that takes place over a 24-hour period and controls when we feel awake and when we feel sleepy. Circadian rhythm is based primarily on the rise and fall of the sun. A part of our brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (2) uses environmental cues such as light to know when it is time to initiate sleep.
The suprachiasmatic nucleus is very sensitive to even small changes in our environments. Electronic devices such as cell phones, tablets, readers, and computers emit blue light (3). Blue light has a short wavelength that is known to interfere with our circadian rhythm by delaying the production of melatonin (4) in the evening. Melatonin is a hormone that is responsible for making us feel sleepy. An interruption in the release of melatonin can lead to insomnia and poor sleep (5).
Some studies have also shown that blue light and a lack of melatonin can reduce time spent in slow-wave and REM sleep. These two stages of sleep are crucial to mental and physical health, as decreased slow-wave and REM sleep impacts memory (6) and mood (7). Poor sleep over time may also lead to chronic daytime sleepiness (8), which can deeply influence health and quality of life.
How Do Electronics Affect Children?
Research suggests that children are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of blue light. As we age, our eyes become less sensitive (9) to light, which means that the impacts of blue light are more severe in children. Blue light suppresses melatonin production in children by nearly twice as much (10) when compared with adults. Use of screen-based technology by children before bed is associated with falling asleep later (11) and getting less sleep overall.
Lack of quality sleep can affect academic performance and behavior (12) in children. Insufficient sleep may also influence a child’s endocrine system (13), which is responsible for proper physical development. Additionally, blue light exposure may affect vision.
Limiting a child’s screen time, particularly at night, may encourage proper sleep and promote healthy development. Creating screen-free zones and setting technology curfews are ways you can help reduce exposure to blue light.
Tips For Using Technology at Night
Many experts recommend avoiding blue light-emitting devices such as cell phones or computers a few hours before bedtime. However, with many people using electronic devices for work or school, it is not always possible to completely avoid technology before bed. Yet, there are some ways to limit the impact of technology and encourage a quality night of rest:
- Create a Screen-free Bedtime Routine: Even if you are unable to completely eliminate the use of technology in the evenings, setting a relaxing routine without electronics can signal to your body that it is time to rest.
- Store Electronic Devices Away From Your Bed: While it may be tempting to scroll through your smartphone before falling asleep, doing so can make it difficult for your body to feel sleepy. Avoiding screens right before bed and during the night may encourage your body’s natural wake and sleep cycle.
- Dim Your Lights: Screens aren’t the only objects that emit blue light. Fluorescent and LED bulbs can also emit some levels of blue light and may interfere with a proper night of rest. Switching to dim lights in the evening can help prepare your body for rest.
- Use Nighttime Mode: Many devices have a night setting that dims the screen and reduces the amount of blue light that is emitted.
- Consider Investing in “Blue Blocker” Glasses: Blue light-blocking glasses are eyeglasses designed using special coatings to filter out blue light. These glasses might reduce (14) some of the effects blue light can have on vision and sleep cycles.
Changing the way you interact with technology before bed might be challenging, but trying out some of these practices and taking other steps to promote good sleep hygiene can keep you feeling healthy, alert, and well-rested.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30137792/ Accessed on March 11, 2021.
- https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/understanding-Sleep Accessed on March 11, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26900325/ Accessed on March 11, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30311830/ Accessed on March 11, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25535358/ Accessed on March 11, 2021.
- http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory Accessed on March 11, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31071719/ Accessed on March 11, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23205286/ Accessed on March 11, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18757473/ Accessed on March 11, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24840814/ Accessed on March 11, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29502749/ Accessed on March 11, 2021.
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- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19955752/ Accessed on March 11, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28045969/ Accessed on March 11, 2021.