If you’re like most people, you keep your phone by your bedside and look at it last thing before falling asleep and first thing in the morning. Like most people, you also suspect that that’s probably not a good habit to have.
Indeed, several studies in recent years confirm the link between late night use of phones and poor sleep habits. One three-year study of Australian teenagers found a direct link between phone use late at night and poor sleep, which negatively affected the teenagers’ mental health down the road. Another study shows that too much social media on your phone too close to bed time leads to anxiety and insomnia.
But what is it exactly that phones do that has such a dramatic effect on our sleep?
Blue light from screens suppresses melatonin
First of all, the blue light emitted by screens has been shown to suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain that controls our sleep-wake cycles. For tens of thousands of years people spent their days by the light of the sun and evenings in relative darkness, a set up that was naturally conducive to promoting a healthy balance between exciting times and relaxing times. As soon as natural light faded out, our bodies began to produce melatonin to get us ready for a restorative sleep. That perfect system is now all messed up by the widespread availability of artificial lighting and especially by the omnipresence of screens whose blue light is a particular arch enemy of melatonin.
Too much stimulation
Beyond these purely physiological reasons, our phones are simply too much for us before bedtime. You can check your email, your bank account balance, the news on the other side of the planet, the forecast for your local currency for the next six months, get involved in a charitable cause, waste money or simply overload on other people’s opinions on Twitter. With so many possibilities just a click or a swipe away, it’s no wonder that it’s rather hard for your brain to feel restful.
Our unhealthily close relationship with our phones has even given rise to new sleep disorders like sleep-texting – yes, people actually texting in their sleep. It’s more common than you think and if you keep your phone with you at all times including nighttime, you might be doing it too.
Take back control
Remember that you’re in control, not your phone. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, not harder, and with a few adjustments it’s totally in your hands to put technology back in its place.
Some recommend switching your phone off completely one to two hours before bed. One study, in particular, found that teenagers who put their phone away one hour before bedtime, got 21 minutes more of sleep. If going phoneless for an hour or more is too much of a leap for you, then you can at least use an app to filter the blue light and somewhat limit its negative effects on your friend melatonin.
Charge your phone elsewhere, not in your bedroom. Buy an old fashioned alarm clock to wake you up instead. If you can’t bear to be in a different room than your phone, then at the very least turn on flight mode or do not disturb mode to prevent sound notifications from coming in. Another option is to use an app blocker to block social media apps a couple of hours before bedtime to allow your mind to rest.
If your FOMO becomes unbearable and you itch to go back to Twitter at midnight, remind yourself that the habits you establish now will affect your health and wellbeing down the road. You might be missing out on (most likely useless) information now, but you won’t be missing out on sleep and eventually on health and overall well-being down t