Do Cellphones Affect Sleep?

Comfort is knowing how to unplug for better sleep.

Smartphones, smart TVs, smart watches, and now, smart homes: the connected world lives in our back pockets, our homes, and our minds 24/7. Connection to our world can be a gift in many ways, but studies are starting to show the effects of overdoing it. One example is the affects smartphones have on our quality of sleep.

In a study by California State University, researchers surveyed over 700 students. Their goal was to understand the impact smartphone use has on executive function, anxiety, and subsequently, sleep. ‘Executive function’ includes making decisions, paying attention, solving problems, and controlling impulses.

Anxiety, in this study, refers to FOMO (fear of missing out) (source).

The Results

The majority of students reported experiencing anxiety when their smartphones aren’t nearby and when they’re unable to access the internet.

Half of the respondents reported keeping their smartphone close while they sleep. 49% check it during the night for a reason other than checking the time. 32% check it once, and 17% check it twice or more.

Students who reported more anxiety when disconnected from their smartphones used them more. Their day use was higher, and they woke up more frequently to check their phones. (source).

What This Means

There are biochemical and psychological implications of smartphone and technology use before and between sleep.

From a biochemical perspective, screen use before bed disrupts sleep-inducing hormone production. In the morning, blue wavelength light signals that it’s time to wake up. Blue light stimulates small amounts of cortisol production that kick start our day. At the end of the day, red wavelength light stimulates the release of melatonin that helps us fall asleep.

Before the invention of the light bulb, this happened naturally as the sun set and candles were lit. Watching TV, checking your smartphone, or working on your laptop at night can disrupt your sleep cycle.

Psychologically, constant connection before bed can be over stimulating. When we’re still connected to our social lives, work, or news, we’re not able to move to the relaxed state we need for sleep. We’re also depriving ourselves of quiet time for personal reflection and growth (source).

What You Can Do

We’re connected enough during the day; we don’t need to stay connected into the wee hours of the night. Sacrificing sleep for technology impedes your sleep quality. It can even reduce the quality of your connections during your waking hours.

Our smartphone addiction is also leading our society to higher levels of daytime anxiety. The term “crackberry” entered our lexicon around a decade ago. At the time, it described the highly addictive quality of BlackBerry devices. Since then, smartphone use has increased, as has the prevalence of sleep deprivation (source).

New research shows that young adults use their smartphone five hours a day on average. That’s roughly twice as much as they think they do. That’s one third of your waking up, a staggering number (source).

This research suggests that these are habitual behaviours we may not even be aware of. Learning how to disconnect can improve your sleep quality, and the many benefits that come from getting better sleep: greater mental clarity, improved memory, healthier hearts, improved immunity, and more.

If these benefits sound attractive to you, here are some suggestions:
• Stop using all screens at least 90 minutes before bedtime, including your smartphone. The blue light emitted from your devices fools your brain into thinking it’s still daytime. This stimulates cortisol production and delays production of sleep-inducing melatonin.
• Keep your work and social lives out of the bedroom. Ban laptops, tablets and smartphones from your sleep zone. Get your mind in sleep mode by reserving your bedroom for rest only.
• Start dimming the lights an hour before bedtime. This will assist in the release of melatonin.
• Choose a predictable pre-bedtime activity. (link to 5 Sleep Habits article) This could include listening to familiar music on a low volume or reading a book.
• Practice not immediately checking your smartphone every time you receive a notification. Turn off messages and alerts. Schedule times to check your phone. This will help rewire your relationship to your phone.