Learn how screen use at night affects your ability to fall fast asleep
A lot of us wind down in the evening by watching our favorite shows, catching up on texts and emails, and scrolling through the news we missed during the day.
Even though we’ve heard a million times that the blue light coming off our phones, laptops, and TVs keeps us up at night, a lot of us end up sabotaging our sleep because we just can’t seem to power down our screens.
Maybe it’s time we all ignored the endless feeds and cut down on the on-demand streams so that we can put sleep first.
According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2022 Sleep in America® Poll, a major source of artificial light in Americans’ daily routines comes from computer, tablet, and smartphone screens. 80% say they looked at screens often during the past week during the day, 68% reported staring at screens in the evening, and—most troubling from a sleep-health perspective—58% are looking at screens within an hour before bedtime.
Read on to find out more about the negative impact electronics can have on your sleep, why you should put down your phone (laptop and TV remote, too) at bedtime, and what you can do instead to create new, healthy habits to improve your sleep.
Science has proven that blue light keeps you up at night. 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 natural 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 together 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.
Light exposure within two hours of bedtime can be disruptive to one’s sleep cycle. That’s because exposure to blue light at night 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.
Yet, over half of Americans polled say that they look at screens within an hour before bedtime or in bed before sleep. Despite our best intentions, we can’t seem to quit screen time.
Turn Off Devices—And Calm Your Mind
Engaging with your devices, such as playing a game or scrolling your social media feed, engages your mind, keeping it running and preventing you from relaxing before bed.
Sounds and bright colors keep your brain alert. Responding to detailed work emails requires a certain level of cognitive alertness, which is not conducive to sleep.
The internet—and other interactive games or devices—can be highly stimulating, getting you all worked up when you’re supposed to be winding down. Why make it harder for yourself to enter the state of relaxation necessary for restorative sleep?
Set your phone aside. You can lol at that meme or react to what your friend just posted to social media tomorrow. The point is to avoid any heightened emotional state that might prevent you from falling asleep quickly.
Create A Disruption-Free Sleep Space
We know it’s not easy, but try to rid your bedroom of distractions that have been shown to get in the way of a good night of sleep. The ideal sleep haven doesn’t have any televisions, tablets, and laptops, but we realize this is unrealistic for many so do your best to limit the number of screens in your bedroom. Yes, you probably need your phone in the bedroom, but not in the bed. Your bed at bedtime should be a screen-free zone.
A sleep-friendly bedroom is dark, quiet, cool, and free of anything that might wake you up during the night. We’ve all fallen asleep with the TV on, only to be woken up later by an infomercial and a bright screen in the middle of the night. Pings and dings from incoming emails on your laptop, as well as text alerts and even the gentle buzz of vibration mode on your cell phone, will likely put your brain back into “response-mode” and disrupt you while you’re drifting off.
You know the drill by now— electronics in the bedroom make it more difficult to fall asleep, cutting into those precious hours, leaving you feeling less rested and groggy the next day. Next time you get the urge to reach for your phone or tablet around bedtime—ask yourself if checking it “one last time” is really worth sacrificing precious sleep. (HINT: It isn’t.)
Screen-Free Sleep is Better Sleep
By limiting the number of screens in your bedroom, you’re removing the temptation to peek at them in the middle of the night. And by sticking to a cut-off time every night (at least an hour or two before bedtime), you’re establishing a solid routine designed for a restful night of sleep.