Alaska Sleep Education Center

6 Ways That Night-time Phone Use Destroys Your Sleep

Posted by Ashley Lipman on Jan 13, 2021 2:15:00 AM

Woman falling asleep with cell phone in bed.

Over the past decade, scientists have been working to understand the implications of prolonged screen time on our health. With the prevalence of smartphones and tablets in the modern household, the long-term impacts are still yet to be determined.

One startling discovery made so far is that night-time phone use is detrimental to sleep. Here are some of the ways using your phone at night will destroy your sleep. 

Affects Your Circadian Rhythm

Your circadian rhythm is the natural cadence of your body's sleep patterns. This core function is tied to every living thing's biological clock, which tells them when it's time to sleep and when to get up. Various factors impact one's circadian rhythm, including natural light, darkness, habits, and other factors. If you've ever experienced jet lag, you can thank your circadian rhythm for the experience.

One of the key discoveries in how night-time phone use impacts sleep is the impact on one's circadian rhythm. Computer and smartphone screens emit blue light wavelengths. During the daylight hours, blue wavelengths can be beneficial, as they keep you attentive and awake while working on your device. However, it's a different story at night.

Blue lights disrupt your circadian rhythm, signaling wakefulness to your body. This issue is caused by the suppression of melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone that regulates sleep patterns. Before you head to the pharmacy to pick up melatonin tablets, consider putting the phone away before bedtime. 

Many newer smartphones have a night setting that shifts the lighting to red wavelengths. This simple shift can help reset your circadian rhythm and promote healthy sleep.

Keeps Your Mind Active

Another way that night-time phone use impacts your sleep is by keeping your mind active and engaged. It's all too easy to lose track of time while scrolling, hopping from one meme to the next, or going down the YouTube rabbit hole. 

By not unplugging from your phone, you're not allowing your mind to unplug from the world around you. The next thing you know, it's after midnight, and you're feeling more awake than ever. If you're the type of person who falls asleep watching TV but can stay awake all night scrolling on your phone, this is the likely cause. 

If willpower is a challenge for you, consider adding time blocker limitations on specific apps to prevent night-time scrolling. Using time-triggered app blockers can help you build the habit of unplugging and winding down before bedtime.

Lower Quality Sleep

Even if you don't struggle to fall asleep after using your phone at night, you'll likely experience lower quality sleep than you would otherwise. Scientists believe that there are a few factors causing this issue. 

As mentioned previously, the blue light wavelengths are known to disrupt the body's natural rhythms. Another factor is the presence of electromagnetic fields. The signals sent and received using electromagnetic fields are thought to cause a decrease in REM (rapid eye movement) during sleep. 

The REM phase of your sleep cycle is when most dreams occur. Scientists believe that this sleep cycle phase plays a pivotal role in cognition and memory. Initial studies show a possible correlation between decreased REM and the development of dementia. 

Disrupting your body's rhythms by using your phone at night can lead to tougher mornings and brain fog. Put the phone away for better sleep quality that leads to better focus, cognition, and accomplishment. While it might be your goal to master the art of taking a sleep selfie, you'll get more favorable results by appearing well-rested, so you can practice during the day.

Not Conducive to Healthy Boundaries

The idea of setting boundaries has been a hot topic in 2020. With more people working from home and experiencing new forms of stress, it's no wonder that the line between work and home is getting erased. In our fast-paced world, we've also become entitled to the idea of instant gratification and immediate results. Setting healthy boundaries is essential for protecting your mental health.

Unfortunately, using your phone at night-time isn't always conducive to setting healthy boundaries. There's no reason to check your work email at 11 pm. However, if your phone is already in hand, you might do so automatically. This could lead to stress and frustration about an issue at work when you should be unplugged and falling asleep. Responding to inquiries at this time could set a precedent that you're available 24/7, even when you shouldn't be. 

The same logic applies to personal relationships. In the rare occurrences when your friends or family members might have an emergency, it's ok to be available. However, if you're just talking about the day or getting pulled into another round of Aunt Suzanne's family drama, there's no reason that it can't wait until tomorrow.

Consider setting your phone on silent and leaving it out of sight and out of mind. Many phones have contact settings that keep texts on silent but override the "do not disturb" setting for phone calls. If you're worried about missing a real emergency, use this setting.

Easier to Hit Snooze

Sleeping with your phone makes it easier to hit the snooze button in the morning. So, in addition to sleeping poorly, you're also able to delay the start of your day by having your alarm within reach. This combination of sleep deprivation and morning disruption creates a vicious cycle that leads to more sleep deprivation, and so on.

The simple act of placing your phone out of reach, on silent, across the room can significantly impact your life. You'll have to get out of bed to hit snooze, which will help you wake up more before you can think about getting five more minutes of fractured rest. While the first few days might be rough, you'll fall into a new habit that starts to repair your broken sleep cycle.

Cell phone blue light keeps us from REM sleep.

Increases Stress

Finally, using your phone at night can also increase your stress levels. This issue is multifaceted. First and foremost, sleep deprivation is closely related to hormonal disruptions and the release of cortisol— the stress hormone. Increased cortisol and blood pressure create the physical symptoms of stress and wreak havoc on the body.

Furthermore, scrolling through the internet at night makes you more likely to come in contact with negativity and stressful narratives. You aren't going to get the sleep you need if you're fighting with people in the comments section on Facebook.

Tips for Better Sleep

To curb your night-time phone use, start by setting a time limit for one-two hours before bed. Place your smartphone on do not disturb and set it out of reach to reduce the temptation to scroll. Within a few weeks, you should notice a significant difference in your sleep quality.

Giving up the phone for an hour before bedtime will help distract your brain from the light. I am not suggesting you keep your phone at 5 percent life but don’t charge your phone next to your bed; otherwise you will be tempted to get on your phone in bed. In fact, “71 percent of people sleep either holding their smartphone, having it in bed with them, or having it on their nightstand.”

Starting with these 7 tips can lead you to healthier sleep patterns and a sleep diary or journal can keep track of changed habits. Quite often patients have a sleep study without adequate information into their nightly habits and get diagnosed with Insufficient Sleep Syndrome, which is basically having terrible sleep as a result of voluntary (albeit unintentional) behaviors that impact their sleep negatively.

If you start to notice a negative pattern that could be corrected by your own choices, make changes after a week and see how your next week goes. If there is a vast improvement to your sleep, you may be able to correct the behavior yourself and avoid having an unnecessary sleep study.

A sleep study may still be the best choice though the type of sleep study varies by a patient’s symptoms. Healthcare providers will monitor your sleep either in a lab or at your home using portable home sleep apnea testing equipment.

If you live in Alaska and are ready to take back your sleep, contact The Alaska Sleep Clinic @ 907-770-9104 and receive a free 10-minute phone consultation with a sleep educator who can help you determine if a sleep study is right for you.

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Topics: sleep habits, sleep hygiene, blue light screen, cell phones

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