Most people realize that electronic devices affect sleep, but people still keep them nearby during sleep. The 2014 National Sleep Foundation survey estimated that 89 percent of adults and 75 percent of children in the United States have at least one electronic device in their bedrooms. This figure is likely to be higher today.
Taking electronic devices to bed may affect sleep in several ways.
Mental stimulation keeps the brain alert
Much of what we do on smart phones and tablets is interactive. They require us to think, respond, and sometimes they also trigger strong emotions – these all increase mental activity. An active mind takes longer to wind down and fall asleep.
Screen light delays the body clock and disrupts sleep
The “body clock” is an internal time-keeper that helps our brains feel awake during the day and sleepy at night. The body clock is “tuned” by light. Light from electronic devices, especially in the two hours before bedtime, send signals for the brain to be awake. So, it is harder to fall asleep when we want to.
Compete for sleep time
In the modern world, sleep has to compete with more and more things for our time at night, and electronic devices are fierce competitors. The time we spend being awake on those devices at night is time we take away from sleep.
Break the “bed = sleep” connection
Our brain learns that bed equals sleep by sleeping in bed and being awake out of bed. Although we don’t consciously think about it, this powerful connection helps our brain anticipate sleep when in bed and promotes good sleep. Using electronics in bed breaks this connection by connecting bed with being awake.
Adolescents and those with insomnia are at especially high risk for sleep problems related to electronics. So how do you reduce the impact of electronic devices on sleep? There are a few methods.
Reducing the effect of devices
When you go to bed, leave your phone or tablet charging outside of your bedroom. Find a different alarm clock. To reduce the impact of screen light on your body clock, use the dimmest screen setting along with a light filter software. Make a habit of keeping your environment as dim as possible two hours before bedtime. Wind down at least an hour before bed. Drop interactive devices such as your phone or laptop or move to passive devices like audiobooks and e-readers.
Skeptical? Try it for 10 days as an experiment and note what your sleep and daytime energy is like before and after. If 5 days a week without electronic devices in bed is the best you can do now, start with that and build on it.