Is scrolling Tik-Tok before you go to bed impacting your quality of sleep? You’re not the only one. We look at why staring at your phone at night can seriously hinder your ability to doze off, while offering some essential sleeping tips
At the end of a long day, few moments beat curling up under the covers ready for a good night’s sleep. However, there is one aspect of modern life which is a proven cause of lack of sleep – our relationship with technology.
With many of us choosing to bring our phones, tablets and other devices into the bedroom with us, our screen time could be harming the quality and quantity of our sleep, affecting not only our mood the next day, but also causing potential long-term health issues.
From body clocks to sleep stages, we explore how technology harms our sleep and highlight the simple steps we can take to reduce the impact our devices are having on our evening routines.
How technology impacts your sleep
According to Dr Harriet Leyland, clinical advisor for healthcare app MyGP, too much screen time can impact both the quantity and quality of your sleep in a number of ways.
Firstly, too much screen time in the evenings can interfere with the body’s circadian rhythm – a 24-hour wake-sleep cycle that is part of the body’s internal clock. When darkness falls, this cycle causes our bodies to automatically produce and release melatonin, a hormone that is crucial to our sleep patterns.
Melatonin helps our bodies summon feelings of drowsiness and lets us know when it is time to go to bed, but its production can be hampered by our screen use. Our digital devices – from phones to tablets – emit what’s known as ‘blue light’, which tricks our brains into thinking it is still daytime. As a result, our natural melatonin production can be slowed or even diminished, leaving us far more likely to be tossing and turning as we struggle to sleep.
From reading emotional news on social media to playing action-packed video games, the content we consume on our devices before bed can also affect the length and quality of our sleep.
Such activities are likely to increase both our heart rate and brain stimulation, making it much harder for us to wind down, relax and nod off.
Finally, using technology at night can reduce our amount of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM is a vital stage of our night’s rest, as it’s when the brain handles information you’ve taken in during the day and stores it in your long-term memory. It also plays a key role in dreaming, emotional processing and information retention.
The impact of bad sleep on our bodies
With technology having a clear impact on our bedtime routines, what are the long-term impacts of poor sleep on our bodies?
Dr Leyland explains that while a good night’s sleep can boost wellbeing and mood, prolonged periods of poor sleep can have serious consequences for our health. In fact, sleeping for fewer than five hours per night can do long-term damage. Studies suggest that short sleepers have a greater chance of developing serious illnesses, while a lack of sleep for over fifties can raise the chance of dying before 75 by 25%.
“Insufficient sleep has been linked with many conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity,” Dr Leyland says. “So, it is crucial to stick to a regular sleep routine with structured bedtimes and wake-up times, even at weekends, and to switch off devices at least an hour before bed.”
Four ways to reduce the impact of technology on your sleep
Thankfully, there are a few easy steps that we can all take to reduce the impact our devices have on our sleep. However, while cutting down on screen time should help increase the quality and quantity of your sleep, consider consulting your GP if issues persist.
- Read a printed book
Swap scrolling through social media in favour of a good book, and you may find your sleep benefits as a result. It can be tempting to fire up a novel on your phone, tablet or e-reader, but the blue light emitted by your device can ultimately harm your sleep. Instead, opt for the old-school option of a printed edition.
- Stick to a regular schedule
Human beings are creatures of habit. To reduce the urge to check your device at night, try setting an alarm one or two hours before bedtime that prompts you to turn off your devices. If you do this regularly, you will eventually find that your tech-free schedule becomes part of your daily routine.
- Keep your phone out of reach
For many of us, the temptation to mindlessly pick up our phone is too strong to resist. All it takes is a few taps to become lost in the maze of apps and social media.
By placing a physical barrier between you and your phone, you will reduce the likelihood of reaching for your device without good reason. Leaving your device in a drawer or on a shelf in another room is a good place to start.
- Practice meditation
Meditation is an effective method of unplugging and settling down for the evening, helping with the release of melatonin and calming your heart rate. Alongside its physical benefits, practicing meditation helps create a relaxed mental state that can lay the groundwork for a good night’s sleep.
From lowering your body’s production of melatonin to disrupting crucial sleep stages, the impact of technology on our bedtime is clear. Whether you are looking to fall asleep faster or wake up feeling more refreshed, reassessing the role your devices play during your evening routine could pay dividends.