Electronics have taken over the world. It has become an absolute necessity in the modern world to use electronic devices for entertainment as well as for staying in touch with friends, family, and work.
So entangled are electronics in our personal lives that we, quite literally, take electronics to bed with ourselves.
A survey done by the National Sleep Foundation in 2014 found that 95% of people use some kind of electronics within one hour of bedtime.
The same survey asked parents about whether or not their children sleep with electronic devices and nearly three quarters reported in affirmative.
The effects of technology aren’t all bad when it comes to sleep. Technology helps people have a better quality of sleep in many ways. Some include:
- Improvements in the mattress industry, with better designs and more variety becoming accessible online
- Increasingly luxurious and affordable sleep products such as “sleep trackers” and “smart beds” which are sensitive to the user’s body temperature
- Articles such as this one allow you to find out better ways to sleep!
The pros definitely indicate that technology has the potential to provide better sleep environments for people; however, the cons must also be taken into account.
With the increasing use of electronics, the number of sleep people gets daily, the quality of their sleep and the rejuvenation people feel after sleeping is seriously affected.
This article is about the ways that sleep is affected by technology, the difference in the impact of technology on sleep in children and adults, and, lastly, some ways to find the balance between using technology and having a good night’s sleep.
Effects of Technology on Sleep
Most electronic device screens, including mobile phones, laptops, tablets, televisions, and e-readers, emit blue light.
Blue light curbs the production of melatonin in the body. Melatonin is responsible for inducing sleepiness and its lack thereof keeps people awake past their usual bedtimes.
The degree to which sleep is affected by blue light is determined by two factors: the duration of exposure and the wavelength of the blue light emitted.
The wavelength depends on the electronic device being used and the duration depends on the user – using your phone to set the alarm might not affect your sleep much but constantly typing on a laptop or reading on a backlit e-reader would.
Your phone can disturb your sleep in many ways and one of them is notification or call sounds.
Your sleep is likely to be disturbed every time the notification bell rings in the night.
Disturbances during sleep, such as those caused by your phone lead to an elevated risk of developing health problems including stroke and cardiovascular disease.
What’s more, mobile phone sounds are more likely to disrupt your sleep than other noise because we have conditioned our minds to promptly respond to the notification bell on our phone.
Therefore, even when we are sleeping, the particular sound that our brain recognizes well prompts us into wakefulness as soon as we hear it.
Scrolling through your Instagram feed or responding to a couple of texts in bed may not affect you much, but if you use your phone in a stimulating way, you are likely to find it difficult, if not impossible, to fall asleep.
There are many ways in which your brain can be stimulated, and many of them result in the release of adrenaline – the fight or flight hormone. Be it stressful conversations or video games, your brain will respond by becoming alert and losing sleep. If this happens too frequently, your brain will not recognize your bed as a place to sleep; instead, your brain will automatically become stimulated in bed as it will associate the bed with events that resulted in mental stimulation.
This phenomenon is the reason why sleep experts recommend removing all sorts of technology from the bedroom before you sleep so that your mind continues associating the bed with sleep only and not an adrenaline rush.
As unbelievable as it may sound, wi-fi signals may also be responsible for hindering your sleep. A study done in 2007 found a significant correlation between trouble sleeping and wi-fi signals.
In the study, the subjects were divided into 2 groups. One was given fake phones and the other was given real phones to use before bed and it was found that those with real phones had significantly more difficulty sleeping than those who had fake phones.
Researchers also found a correlation between the strength/frequency of signals and difficulty sleeping.
Studies have also found that chronic sleep disorders can also be caused by electromagnetic waves in your bedroom. These frequencies make it difficult for a person to follow a sleep cycle because he/she will have difficulty sleeping and that too at a particular time.
Moreover, some people might also have trouble sleeping for an ample amount of time which prevents the body from feeling rejuvenated.
Technology addiction is not some myth and those who are addicted to their smart devices can find it nearly impossible to part with them and fall asleep. There is a strong positive correlation between technology addiction and sleep disruption.
People are more likely to become addicted to using their mobile phones than other devices.
The indicator most frequently used by researchers to find addiction level is time spent using the device; some other indicators include how quickly one picks up the phone after hearing the notification bell, how agitated he/she feels when their device is not connected to the internet for a long time and how many times he/she picks up the phones during the day.
A Comparative Analysis of the Effects of Technology on Sleep
Technology affects children’s sleep more severely than adults and affects not only their academics but also their general health and well-being.
A study found that those teenagers who text or email before they sleep – as little as once a week – report sleeping for 30 fewer minutes than their peers and also experience significantly more drowsiness in the day.
In the same way, teenagers who watch television before they sleep also tend to experience difficulty falling asleep, shorter sleep durations, and late bedtimes.
Children’s health is greatly affected by the quality and quantity of their sleep; children who do not receive ample sleep tend to have trouble focusing and processing and retaining information.
The normalization of the use of technology has aggravated the problem. The children of today grew up in a world where electronic devices are imperative to survival and thus the children use technology in all aspects of their lives, whether to study or for entertainment.
Interestingly, children today often use their smartphones as sleep aids and end up experiencing sleep deprivation and daytime drowsiness as a consequence.
In the world we live in today, technology is an essential part of children’s lives whether we like it or not. Many homework assignments require the use of a computer or a laptop and thus children are forced to spend a large part of their day staring at their devices’ screens.
Moreover, with school, work, and extracurricular activities, children often end up with no choice but to complete their homework late at night.
What Can You Do to Get Better Sleep?
Chronic sleep deprivation can have grave consequences which extend to all aspect of one’s life. So how can you get better sleep and avoid these problems? Here are a few ways:
1. Make your bedroom a gadget-free zone
To save you from tech-related disturbances at night, there is no surer method than this.
The benefits of doing this are two-fold: firstly, you will not be disturbed by blue light and notification bells from your gadgets, and secondly, your brain will become conditioned to viewing your bedroom as a place to relax as opposed to a place for socializing, work and other stimulating activities.
Put away all devices that emit blue light (anything with screens, such as mobile phones, computers etc.) 30-60 minutes before bedtime
You might be wondering what to do with those 30-60 minutes before you sleep. Here are some bright ideas: engross yourself in an interesting book, practice yoga and meditation, listen to music or just chat with someone at your house.
2. Try to not respond to phone notifications immediately during the day
This is a good way to prevent notifications from disturbing your sleep as your cortisol response to the notification bell will be lessened and you will be able to part from your phone 30-60 minutes before you sleep.
3. Gradually schedule all your less-stimulating activities for the evening and vice versa
For example, you could scroll through your social media feed at night instead of playing video games.
4. If you find it difficult to not use tech at night, start by turning on night mode.
You can find this feature in many smartphones and e-readers. In this mode, your phone will emit less blue light and will use red light instead.
For older phones, it is possible to make the background black and the text white by inverting color settings. Some downloadable apps can also be used to this end.
You can also try dimming the screen light and keeping your phone 14 or more inches away from your face.
5. Try using tinted glass when using a computer, particularly at night
Although tinted glass is not as effective as “night mode”, it can still be used to limit the amount of blue light entering the eyes.
6. Stay away from bright lights before you sleep
Light from bulbs can also interfere with your sleep. It is a good idea to use dim and soft light bulbs.
Also, try to avoid positioning light sources in a way that the light shines directly in your eyes – instead, use lamps or overhead lighting. You can try using blackout curtains if there is a lot of light pollution in your area.
This will also help you wake up refreshed in the morning as your body will associate exposure to bright light with alertness.
7. Practice good sleep hygiene and follow a regular bedtime schedule
Sleeping at the same time every day will help to set up your circadian rhythm better. Sleep in a cool bedroom and stay away from alcohol, caffeine, and sugary and spicy food at night.
8. Invest in a good mattress
Make your bed an appealing place to sleep in and you will want to sleep on time every day. The best way to do that is with a good mattress!
While technology surely has eased our lives today, it does have negative impacts, especially when it comes to sleep.
Therefore, it is strictly advised to limit the use of technology to daytimes only and keep away from all sorts of gadgets to improve the quality of sleep.