There has been a massive rise in the use of mobile devices over the past decade and many people would struggle to live life without their preferred phone or tablet.
Unfortunately this has also led to a rise in poor sleep habits caused by the use of these devices later in the evening when we should be winding down and getting ready for bed.
SO what exactly is it about our mobile devices that are causing poor sleep?
What The Research Is Showing
Research has now shown that when you’re using these devices immediately before bed time:
- You feel more alert just as you’re about to go to bed.
- You take longer to fall asleep.
- You get less REM sleep through the night.
- You feel less rested the next day.
- You have lower levels of alertness the next day.
- You potentially delay your circadian timing enough to make it more difficult to fall asleep the following night.
So what is happening here to cause these disruptions to your sleep?
Well there are two main reasons your devices can cause your sleep to be disrupted or of a poor quality.
1 – Devices Affect Melatonin Production
Many people know that melatonin has some sort of relationship with sleep but don’t quite understand what that relationship is.
Contrary to popular belief, melatonin doesn’t make you sleepy in the way that a sleeping pill such as Ambien would.
Melatonin helps regulate your circadian rhythm which means it plays a part in determining what time your body decides it’s time to wake up or time to go to sleep.
When it gets dark, this is the signal your brain uses as the trigger to start producing melatonin. And this then kicks off a cascade of other events in the brain and body that result in you feeling drowsy and falling asleep a short time later.
It’s the transition from light to dark that kicks of this cascade.
What has now been discovered is that our devices emit enough light (and in particular light in the blue spectrum) to trick your brain into thinking it’s still daytime.
This then results in a delay in the production of melatonin.
But it’s not just the light being emitted, it’s the brightness of that light combined with how closely we hold these devices to our faces.
This is why these devices can have a much greater impact on your sleep then a TV, which is generally even brighter.
We tend to sit far enough away from the TV that the impact (while potentially still felt) is not nearly as great as from devices that are held much closer to your eyes.
Now having said that, cutting TV in the hour before bed can potentially improve your sleep even more.
If you really want to take your sleep to the next level, replacing that last hour of TV with reading a paper book (not an ebook) can potentially further improve your sleep.
2 – Mobile Devices Are Cognitively Stimulating
We’ve talked previously talked about the two processes that interact and determine when you’re awake and when you’re asleep – your Wake Drive & your Sleep Pressure.
One of the things that using devices in the evening does is to stimulate and activate your Wake Drive beyond what would be normal for that time of the day.
If you think about the activities you’re doing on your devices this will make sense.
You could be interacting with people on social media, playing games, responding to emails, browsing the web etc.
Each of these things can have a stimulating effect on your brain and keep your Wake Drive at levels that don’t allow Sleep Pressure to take over and send you off to sleep.
This is why it’s a good idea to shut devices down completely rather than simply put them down.
It only takes one alert from your phone to pull you back to your device to ‘quickly check’ what’s happening…and all of a sudden you’ve been back on your device for 45 minutes and you’re fully alert again.
Further Reducing The Impact Of Devices
Shutting down your devices at least 90 minutes before bed time is a great start.
There are a couple of other things you can do to further minimize the impact that the blue light from screens has on your sleep
The first is to use tools that extract the blue light from your screens.
Most devices have in-built features (such as Apple’s Night Shift) that make this easy. You can also use a program like f.lux for computers.
By using these tools you are minimizing the amount of blue light entering your eyes as soon as the sun goes down.
The next thing you can try is to wear glasses at night that filter blue light.
These are generally orange colored glasses and they are ideal to prevent your TV from having any impact.
Sure you might look a little silly wearing them around the house at night…but who else besides your family is going to see you?
For many people, shutting down devices in the 1.5 – 2 hours before bed is the single biggest factor that results in a massive transformation in getting good sleep.
Yes, initially it can be hard to pull yourself away…
But the long term benefits to your sleep and your health make it worth the effort.