How Electronics Can Alter Your Sleep

thensfYour Sleep Environment

You’ve heard that screen time before bed can keep you up, but why? This is what you need to know to break the habit of bedtime screen time.

Image of an unmade bed

For many people, a typical evening might include watching TV, playing video games on a cell phone, or checking email for the last time that day. However, screen time before bed can have a negative effect on your sleep quality. Learn more about the impact electronics can have on your sleep, why you shouldn’t use your phone before bed, and what you can do instead to promote healthy sleep. 

Light From Electronics Affects the Sleep-Wake Cycle

Cell phones, computers, tablets, and televisions emit blue light from their screens. Blue light has shorter wavelengths than other colors in the visible light spectrum and causes more alertness than warmer light tones. Because blue light promotes wakefulness, it can have a powerful effect on the sleep-wake cycle, which is one of the essential circadian rhythms governing our body processes. 

Circadian rhythms are the 24-hour cycle of hormones and chemicals in the body that help dictate when you sleep and when you’re awake. Circadian rhythms work in tandem with natural daylight. When the sun rises in the morning, the body produces cortisol to make you feel alert. When the sun goes down, the body produces melatonin, which induces feelings of sleepiness. 

Exposing yourself to blue light in the evening stimulates your brain into thinking it’s earlier in the day. Your brain slows or stops its release of melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep. 


Electronics Stimulate the Brain

Sending late-night emails or playing a game on your phone stimulates your brain, keeping it engaged and preventing you from relaxing before bed. Exciting sounds and bright colors keep your brain alert, and responding to high-level work problems requires a certain level of cognitive skill, which is not conducive to sleep.

The content you encounter on the Internet can also produce strong emotions or reactions, which also makes it harder to enter the state of relaxation necessary for restorative sleep. Whether it’s a funny image on a website or a thought-provoking Facebook post, content that leads to a heightened emotional state prevents you from falling asleep quickly.


Electronics Disrupt the Sleep Environment and Delay Sleep

An ideal sleep environment is dark, quiet, cool, and free of anything that might wake you up during the night. Electronics often disrupt the sleep environment. People tend to fall asleep with the TV on, only to be awakened by the bright screen in the middle of the night. A cell phone or laptop might make a noise when you get an incoming message; even a soft vibration of your phone, if left on the nightstand, can cause quite a clatter and disrupt your sleep. 

In addition, having electronics in the bedroom delays the time you actually fall asleep, which reduces sleep duration and leads to feeling sleepy the following day. Keeping a cell phone or tablet in the bedroom—even if left on silent—can create the urge to check it “one last time” before bed and delay bedtime further. You might also be tempted to look at your phone if you wake up in the middle of the night, thereby exposing yourself to more blue light and lengthening the time it takes you to fall back to sleep. 


How to Create a Technology-Free Sleep Environment

To avoid screen time before bed, remove electronics from the bedroom or adhere to a cut-off time every night that starts an hour before your planned bedtime. Use an old-fashioned alarm clock instead of the alarm on your cell phone, and relax before bed by reading a novel, stretching gently, or listening to calming music.