Keeping your smartphone on your nightstand may not seem like a big deal, but it could be keeping you from a good night’s rest. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 3 Americans don’t get enough sleep. Often, technology is a contributing factor. There are so many benefits to sleep, so what can you do to improve it?
Sleep scientist, Sairam "Sai" Parthasarathy, MD, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Sleep Disorders at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, explains how technology interferes with sleep and ways you can ensure a good night’s rest in the future.
It’s All About Our Biology
“As you are lying in bed at night on your phone, your body may feel relaxed and ready for bed, but biologically, you are sending mixed signals,” Dr. Parthasarathy says. “The blue light, which gives your phone that crisp, bright white color, is mimicking sunlight. This in turn is telling your brain to suppress melatonin; that it’s not ready to sleep.”
Decades of research has shown that shifts in your biological clock can have devastating health effects because it controls not only our wakefulness but also individual clocks that dictate function in the body’s organs. One 2014 study found that participants who read on light-emitting devices took longer to fall asleep, had less REM sleep—or dream sleep—and higher alertness before bed.
How It Affects Us Physically
Blue light isn’t the only culprit. Our smartphones and devices also introduce many sounds and pop-up notifications to our environment as well as unnecessary stressors. From text alerts and Facebook pop-up notifications, you’re constantly being bombarded with distractions. Got an email from a disgruntled client or watching a scary movie late at night? Now, you’re activating your body and mind—increasing your stress hormone levels while also lowering melatonin.
Dr. Parthasarathy adds that these distractions and stressors from technology can also contribute to chronic health conditions and mental health issues.
What You Can Do to Ensure Good Sleep
Struggling with technology use at bedtime? Dr. Parthasarathy suggests the following to improve your sleep:
1. Technology-Free Bedroom
Your best bet for good sleep is to remove any and all possible distractions from your room—TV, smartphones, computers and e-readers—making your room a safe haven.
If you still need to get work done, Dr. Parthasarathy suggests printing out work.
“Nowadays, everything is online, especially for our kids. What I tell my own son and something I do at home, is print what I need to work on or look over.”
2. Limit Electronic Use
“Normally, melatonin starts going up two hours before bedtime,” Dr. Parthasarathy says. “I go beyond that and recommend you reduce technology use up to four hours before bedtime.”
3. Night Shift / Night Mode
Most smartphones and e-readers come with this feature. Turning it on changes your screen from primarily blue light to red light, so it’s dimmer and less intense to your eyes.
4. Do Not Disturb
Most phones also include a “do not disturb” function, that will prevent pop-up notifications, sounds and vibrations, except for items you specify – such as a call from your spouse.
If you’re still struggling and can’t sleep, consult a Banner Health sleep expert near you.