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Electronics dominate the modern world. It’s unimaginable to live without smartphones, television, video games, and other electronic devices that keep us entertained, and connected with our family, friends, and work. Technology has become so normal to us, that we even take to bed – literally. According to a survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, an astonishing 95% of people report using their smartphone or another type of electronic device within an hour before bedtime. Another devastating fact is that ¾ of parents report letting their children sleep with at least one electronic device.
When it comes to sleep and technology, it has even significantly influenced the mattress industry and enabled the development of smart mattresses, online availability and more variety than ever before. Thanks to the internet and numerous apps, sleep products have become easily accessible and affordable to every budget. Apart from smart beds that react to the sleeper’s body temperature, thanks to technology, we also have numerous personal sleep trackers at our disposal. Lastly, technology helps you find useful articles like this about how to sleep better.
Although technology has many benefits to our sleep, it can severely interfere with it. For example, regularly using electronic devices, and especially before bedtime, can negatively affect your sleep quality and sleep time. Consequently, when tech interferes sleep, it also impacts how well you function during the day.
Read on to learn how technology truly impacts sleep, how it affects children and adults, and how to power down and get a good night’s sleep without tech gadgets that we are so used to using.
How Tech Devices Impact Sleep?
The biggest problem tech devices are for sleep is the level of blue light they emit. Blue light is present in all modern technology, starting from smartphones and television, to computers, e-readers, and even fluorescent lighting.
Blue light – Blue light has one of the strongest and brightest wavelengths, which means it intensively pierces the photoreceptors in our retinas. When our brain senses blue light from an electronic device, it perceives it as sunlight and may assume it’s daytime. This is bad because melatonin production is regulated by natural sunlight, and its production is essential for normal functioning of our circadian rhythm. Normally, melatonin levels increase in the evening and make us feel drowsy. In the morning, melatonin levels decrease making us feel more alert. However, due to blue light exposure, our levels our melatonin may also increase at night, making us feel refreshed and alert instead of sleepy. When melatonin release is delayed, it’s much harder to fall asleep, and logically, stay asleep.
Noise – Apart from blue light emission, our favorite tech gadgets also disturb our snooze time in other ways. For example, electronic devices often come with a cacophony of beeps, chimes, and sounds that may easily disrupt our sleep environment. Starting from social media notifications to emails and calls, you can definitely recall a time when a noise from your phone woken you up in the middle of the night or early in the morning. The solution to this problem is easy – just turn your phone ringer off or turn on the “Do Not Disturb” option when you go to bed. According to our survey, most Americans forget to do this, and around 10% of them report waking up in the middle of the night, a few times a week due to a sound their smartphone makes. It’s an interesting fact that even when your phone is on silent, the strong vibration may wake you up. Studies have also found that electromagnetic cellular and Wi-Fi signals may disrupt your sleep quality.
Increased anxiety and cortisol levels – Certain technology, especially our smartphones, may deliver content that is stimulating and stressful. For example, reading work emails late at night has shown to increase your anxiety and cortisol levels. Watching action movies or playing an intense video game activates the “fight or flight” response in your brain which also increase your cortisol levels, and at the same time, delaying melatonin production. The point is that your favorite gadgets, although it may not seem like it, prevent you from unwinding and relaxing before bed, which is important for falling asleep.
Young adults particularly have a hard time separating themselves from their phones. A survey conducted in 2016 shows that young adults feel insecure when they are separated from their phones and that this makes them so anxious that bot their smartphone usage and nighttime awakenings increased. We can say that young adults are basically addicted to technology and their phones.
Passive and Interactive Activity
The type of device you use, the way you use it, as well as for how long you use it can all affect how it disrupts your sleep quality. For example, playing video games before bedtime or texting can affect your sleep more than passive use of technology such as watching Netflix or television. However, passive use should also not be taken lightly. Some studies show that using your phone for 2 hours on maximum brightness significantly slows down or completely delays melatonin production.
What tech is the most dangerous for sleep? The answer is your smartphone. Smartphones and tablets can be especially hazardous because we hold the screens much closer to our eyes than other devices, such as televisions and computers. A Harvard study showed interesting results – people who use e-readers opposed to people who read paper books, need 10 minutes longer to fall asleep. This fact alone is not concerning because there is not a big difference. However, e-readers also released only half the amount of melatonin than normal, and spent significantly less time in REM sleep.
Simply put, no matter what type of electronic device you use before bedtime, the longer you use it, the less amount of quality sleep you can expect.
Does Technology Affect Children’s Sleep more than Adults?
Unfortunately, technology may create bigger sleep problems for children than adults. It also may have adverse effects and consequences beyond sleep, such as affecting their academic performance, and general wellbeing.
According to some studies and surveys, teens who text after bedtime, even only once a week, experience significantly higher levels of daytime sleepiness, and sleep approximately half an hour less than teenagers who don’t use their phones past their bedtimes. Teens who tend to text at night also sleep shorter and have a hard time falling asleep.
When children are sleep deprived, they have a hard time to focus, process and memorize information. They are also at higher risk of poor health. The adverse effects of technology on children’s sleep is particularly problematic because the use of numerous tech gadgets and electronic devices is normalized from early age. Kids basically grow up with smartphones, internet, and computer, and they are used to living in a world full of electronic devices. Due to this, many kids use technology to unwind before bed. For example, they engage on social media, watch TV, Netflix or play video games. As you may conclude, kids and young adults basically use technology as a sleep aid. Children don’t see technology as something that hinders their sleep but on the contrary, something that benefits it. Kids that believe technology such as smartphones helps their rest, often go to slumber later, sleep significantly shorter than they should in their age, and may suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness.
Some children don’t prefer technology, but it’s still forced on them. For example, most homework is nowadays done on computers or online, and since homework is done after school (which sometimes last until late afternoon) kids are basically forced to sit in front of bright electronic devices for hours. Extracurricular activities and other priorities may also make it hard to squeeze homework in earlier hours during the day.
Tips for Reducing the Negative Effects of Technology On Children’s Sleep
Here are some ideas and suggestions you could use to counteract the adverse effects of technology on your kids’ sleep.
Be a good sleep role model – as you undoubtedly know, your child looks up to you for guidance from the first day they were born. Guidance refers to all areas in life, including developing healthy sleep habits. If you don’t practice healthy sleep habits, it’s unlikely your child will do the opposite. So, it’s vital to be a good sleep role model to your kids, and encourage them to follow your footsteps. For example, if you don’t want your kids to use electronic devices before bed, you should also remove your phone, TV, and computer out of the bedroom.
Get your kids in the habit of reading before bed – Encouraging your children to read from early age is beneficial to them on multiple levels. Studies show that children who start reading from early age have better emotional intelligence and enjoy the cognitivist benefits all through their pre-teen years. Reading before bed is also a great way to unwind and prepare yourself for sleep. So, make sure your child uses a book and not his smartphone to relax before snoozing.
Explain the effects – Your kids may not like the fact you are forcing them to separate themselves from their phones and computers. Rather than forcing your children to use technology less than usual, you should educate them how it affects sleep, and why it’s essential to avoid electronic devices before bedtime.
Prioritize sleep – kids, especially teens, usually have a very challenging school schedule to follow, and since many parents fear it won’t be enough to get them into the best college, they don’t react even when they noticed their children are obviously overbooked. If your kids struggle with their schedule, you have to remove one or two of their activities and make sure there is enough room for proper and restorative sleep. Help your kids with their homework, and try to find ways to make things a bit easier for them.
How to Power Down for a Better Night’s Rest
Not getting proper sleep regularly is a problem that should be taken seriously. The effects of deprivation will severely deteriorate your life quality and affect every aspect of your life, starting to school and work to putting a strain on your social life. Here are some tips to get a better night’s rest without the use of electronics.
Remove electronics from the bedroom – This is the first thing you have to do if you want to avoid the negative impact technology may have on your sleep. Apart from making sure you are not disturbed by blue light or electronic devices noise, this will also help your brain to see your bedroom as a place for sleep. Your bedroom shouldn’t be a place for work or socializing.
Stop using blue-light devices an hour before bed – It’s as simple as that. To sleep better, just stop using your smartphone, e-readers, computers, tablets and other tech an hour before bedtime. If you don’t know how to unwind without those gadgets, you should try reading a book or a magazine, or listen to an audiobook, podcast or some relaxing music. You can also talk to your household members, take a shower or meditate a bit.
Reduce tech use in the evening – if possible, it is best to limit your electronic devices use in the evening because it stimulates your brain and may make it harder to fall asleep. This includes playing video games and scrolling through social media.
Set your sleep schedule – once you set your sleep schedule and decide to go to bed, simply turn on the “Do Not Disturb” mode, and ignore all text and emails until morning. An important part of following your sleep schedule is to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even when it’s your day off. Combining this with other healthy sleep habits such as limiting your caffeine intake in the evening and avoiding unhealthy foods will also help you to snooze better.
Use “night mode” – if you have to use technology at night and in bed, at least set your phone and apps to night mode. Night mode typically uses red light instead of blue light, so your screens will be dimmer and less intense on your eyes. If you are using some old devices that don’t come with this feature, invert the color settings, so your background is black with white text. It is also possible to download apps that will do this for you. Lastly, dim the brightness on your devices and keep it far away from your face as possible (ideally 14 inches away).
Use tinted glasses – tinted glasses are yellow or orange and reduce the amount of blue light you perceive when using your computer and smartphone, especially at night.
Limit your exposure to light at night – apart from avoiding blue light from your screens, you should also limit your exposure from other light around your house. Dim the lights in the evening in your home and If you live on a street with a lot of light pollution, use blackout curtains for your bedroom.
Get a great mattress – one of the best ways to motivate yourself to go to bed earlier is to turn your bedroom into a place you can’t wait to fall asleep in every night. By getting a comfortable and cozy mattress, choosing a soothing bedroom color and decorations, you are halfway done. Make sure your room is quiet, dark and comfortably cool, and your sleep sanctuary is ready to use!
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A wannabe journalist who somehow ended up as an art historian. She is a gamer, a coffee addict and a sleep aficionado. When she is not researching about sleep and finding out new ways to fight off the insomnia beast, she’s spending time with her friends, gaming or visiting local museums.