At least 90% of us use technology in the hour before we go to bed, according to the National Sleep Foundation. In some ways, this is natural. We are surrounded by technology all day, using it at work, at home, and at play. It makes sense that we would take it to bed, too.
However, it turns out that technology and our bodies aren’t entirely compatible, at least when it comes to sleep. It makes sense, then, that we learn to develop healthy habits around technology and sleep, so we can reap the benefits that both have to offer.
Different Ways Technology Affects Sleep
There are several important ways that technology can impact our sleep. Most people don’t suffer from all of these problems, but nearly everyone will notice one or two problems on this list that are present in their life.
Blue light is a type of light emitted by most electronic devices. This includes mobile phones, tablets, laptop and desktop computer screens, televisions, and even eReaders. Unfortunately, this steady stream of blue light late at night can keep the human body from producing enough melatonin. Since melatonin helps us fall asleep, the blue light coming from our devices often means that bedtime gets pushed back further than it should.
The magnitude of blue light’s effect on you depends on the exact wavelength your screens emit, as well as how long and how often you look at them. Glancing at your phone once or twice to see if your mother called will have less effect than typing away while staring at a mostly-white screen or even reading a book on a backlit eReader.
Even if you mitigate the effects of blue light, your phone can disturb your sleep. If you keep your notifications on, you may wake or stir every time your phone goes off overnight. It’s a well-known fact that noise disrupts sleep, and that these disruptions can lead to a higher chance of health problems like stroke and cardiovascular disease. Noise from mobile devices or technology is no different.
In fact, we may be more likely to wake to sounds connected to our mobile devices than we are to other noises. We spend all day responding to the sounds our devices make. We habituate ourselves to jump and check the phone every time we hear certain noises. It makes sense, then, that we would also be more likely to be disturbed when we hear these noises at night, even if we can’t remember hearing them.
It may be one thing to respond to a text or two while sitting in bed or to scroll through a beautiful Instagram feed. It’s entirely another to use technology in a way that is stimulating, right before bed. All sorts of activities can stimulate the brain, and many of these include the release of adrenaline. When this happens, it can be almost impossible to get to sleep quickly. If this happens too often in bed, your brain can start to become stimulated when you head to bed, simply because of the association and not because anything actually happened that night.
Anything from video games to stressful conversations to energizing work can stimulate your brain and make it harder to sleep. Thus, sleep experts often suggest removing technology from the bedroom, to avoid this risk and to help your body associate your bed with sleeping and sex, and nothing else.
It may sound crazy, but the wifi signals emitted by your devices can interfere with your sleep. In a 2007 study, subjects were given either real or fake mobile phones to interact with before bed. The ones who played with the real phones had significantly more trouble sleeping. In addition, researchers demonstrated that different strengths and frequencies of signal all affected sleep differently.
There’s also proof that, over time, having all sorts of electromagnetic frequencies in the room while you’re trying to sleep can cause chronic sleep disorders. Most frequently, it becomes harder to fall asleep and harder to do so at a reasonable hour. For some people, it’s also hard to stay asleep long enough to get plenty of rest.
Technology addiction is real and it, too, can interfere with sleep. For a person who is addicted to their phone, tablet, computer, or another device, putting it down can feel almost impossible. The more addicted a person becomes to technology, though, the more severe their sleep disruption will be.
This sort of disruptive addiction is common with mobile smartphones, though it can happen on any device. Generally, researchers determine a person’s addiction level by monitoring how much time a person spends using a device, though it can also be measured by how often the device is picked up during the day, how urgently a person needs to check a device after hearing a notification sound, and how a person feels when they can’t be on their device or can’t be connected to the Internet for a period of time.
Minimizing the Effects of Technology on Your Sleep
Technology is harming your sleep, but what can you do about it? After all, you’ve got to have a cell phone and you enjoy being able to watch TV in bed on Sunday morning. Even if you love your tech, though, there are ways to set some protective boundaries around your sleep. Doing these things will help you get a good night’s rest more often.
Put it Down
Sure, you’ve got to have a phone, but that doesn’t mean you need to be attached to it 24/7, especially when you’re trying to sleep. Put your phone down, turn off the TV, and give your body the relaxation it needs before you rest.
You’ll want to stop using technology at least an hour before bedtime. Decide what time you need to lay down, based on what time you’re getting up and how much sleep you need. Then, subtract an hour or two from that. That’s when you should put your phone down for the night.
If it helps, you can turn off all of your technology. Put your phone, your tablet, your computer, and your remotes out of reach, or leave them all in another room. It can help to have someone else hold you accountable. This person can remind you if you forget to shut your tech down at the right time. They can also ask you what you’re doing if you pick it up again.
Leave it Outside Your Room
Since your technology can also disturb you after you fall asleep, make a place for it outside your room. Leave it in your office, your extra bedroom, or even on your kitchen counter. Put your chargers there, too, so you can wake up to everything charged and ready to go.
If you use your phone for an alarm clock, make sure you have another option. A cheap clock from the store can take its place. Many types of wearable technology can also serve as alarms without disturbing you the same way that other technological devices can. Many of these even have a vibrating alarm option, so you don’t have to wake anyone else when you get up.
Plan Your Bedtime Routine
You may not know exactly what to do with yourself after you turn off your technology. Plan ahead for this. Come up with some relaxing activities that you can do in your hour or two before bedtime that don’t involve technological devices. Consider things like taking a warm bath, reading an actual book, talking to your loved ones, or tidying your home. You may need to try several things before you find what works for you. Remember to keep these activities relatively unstimulating, so you don’t wake your brain up.
Turn Off Your Notifications
If you need to have your technology in your bedroom with you for some reason, turn off all of your notifications at night. Many devices have some sort of Do Not Disturb mode, where you can determine which notifications do and do not get through. iPhones, for instance, allow you to turn on your ringer when people call more than once in a minute. You can also set it up so you only receive alerts from certain people, in case you have a message coming in that can’t wait.
Change Your Light Settings
Since the light that emanates from some devices is one of the biggest problems for your sleep, changing that light can go a long way towards helping you get better rest. Some devices come with a way to do that built into the technology. For others, you can download free apps that will let you eliminate blue light. This is the type of light that causes problems for sleep. Eliminating it can permit you to continue using your device right up until you go to bed.
There are a few devices, like some backlit eReaders, that don’t have a nighttime option. On these, though, you can usually swap the background and foreground colors. Instead of reading black print on a white screen, do white print on a black screen, instead. This won’t eliminate all of the blue light, but it can go far towards allowing you to enjoy your reading and get your rest, too!
Technology is a gift but it also brings with it new responsibilities. As we learn more and more about how technology affects our rest, we will have to learn how to develop habits that let us use technology and rest well, too.