We all need quality sleep to live our lives to the fullest. A good night’s rest fulfills several of our most important biological and psychological needs. And practicing healthy sleep habits is one of the best ways to maintain our health and sense of wellness.
Sleep is one of life’s most natural recurring phenomena—for almost all of us, sleep occurs on a nightly (or daily) basis. Despite this, sleep is not well understood. Even though sleep affects the lives of every human being, scientists still do not have a strong grasp of its purpose or mechanisms of action.
However, we do understand how to maximize the quality of our sleep. How we interact with the technology in our lives has a major impact on the quality and duration of our sleep. These days, so many of us are constantly plugged into our devices that we rarely get the rest we need. These devices keep us up at night and trick our brains into thinking that we should stay awake.
If you want to find out more about how technologies influence our sleep quality, check out our guide below. Just be warned, you may never bring your phone to bed again.
Tech in The Bedroom
Untold millions of unwitting smartphone users bring their phones to bed with them at night. Be honest—you are probably guilty of this too. It allows us to respond to those late-night emails, text messages, and check the latest headlines and push notifications before we finally doze off.
But truth be told, smartphones have no place in the bedroom. This is because your smartphone affects sleep patterns in several important ways.
Blue Light Pollution
It’s true, blue cell phone light is one of the worst influences on our sleep quality. Our electronic devices emit a specific kind of light called “blue light”. Blue light is more harmful to our sleep than natural light. This is because blue light is enriched by short wavelengths, which make our eyes more receptive to its glow.
All our smartphones, tablets, and high-efficiency LED light bulbs emit blue light. This kind of light has a higher output of energy. One consequence of being exposed to blue light at night is the fact that it tricks our brains into believing that its intensity is caused by natural sources such as the sun. Consequently, we get a boost of energy and wakefulness that keeps us up later.
Your body has a natural built-in “clock” that regulates when it should sleep, and when it should be alert and productive. This is called your “circadian clock” or your “circadian rhythm”. Your circadian clock is necessary for maintaining a regular, healthy sleep pattern.
In today’s world of 9-to-5 employment, protecting your circadian clock is a necessity. When our circadian clocks are interrupted, we end up throwing our nighttime routine off kilter. This causes our bodies to feel groggy, our minds to be exhausted, and our moods to become irritable.
Exposure to a cell phone screen is a surefire way to throw off your circadian clock. All the light, noise and stimulation provided by cell phones causes our internal clocks to go haywire. This affects sleep in a negative way and can often ruin our morning.
A 2014 study by the National Sleep Foundation found that 95 percent of survey respondents use their phones immediately before bedtime. One of the major consequences of using your phone before sleeping is that it causes us to place our phones by our bedside.
Leaving your phone within arm’s reach negatively affects sleep. When we keep our phones close by, we are encouraged to reach out and use it to check the time or to respond to notifications during the night. While it is normal to wake up sporadically overnight, checking our phones only makes this worse by keeping us up even later.
To prevent this, I always make sure I keep my phone out of reach before I sleep. Usually, I plug my phone in on the opposite end of my bedroom where I cannot reach it. When I need to make sure I’m well rested the following day, I place my phone in another room. But no matter what, I always make sure my phone is on silent so that I minimize disruptions.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Our reliance on technology affects sleep in several ways. One of the worst aspects of compromised sleep is the downstream effect it has on our general sense of well-being. This is because when our sleep suffers, we suffer. There is simply no substitute for a good night’s sleep.
To give you a better idea of the harmful effects of technology-induced sleep deprivation, here is a quick breakdown of the worst symptoms. Each of these symptoms has been linked to sleep deprivation through a growing body of scientific evidence.
Depression and Anxiety
There is no doubt about it, a crappy sleep leads to a crappy mood. For many of us, this is a fact that is as clear as day. However, a pattern of poor sleep can have a lasting influence on our mental health.
When we regularly fall short of our recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night, our entire sense of emotional well-being takes a toll. Routine sleep deprivation is linked to many symptoms of clinical depression, such as irritable mood, low energy levels, and a deep sense of sadness or emptiness.
Similarly, sleep deprivation is also linked to anxiety disorders. When technology gets in the way of our sleep hygiene, we become much more on-edge and prone to feelings of unease and nervousness. To safeguard against the onset of anxiety, it is always a good idea to prioritize your sleep quality.
Loss of Creativity
When we are physically and mentally exhausted, we simply cannot think straight. There are many aspects of thinking that are compromised by sleep deprivation. Among these are logical, lateral, and spatial thinking. However, creative thinking is also obstructed by poor sleep quality.
When technology keeps us up at night, we become less creative consequently. One of the most critical aspects of creativity is the ability to retrieve and consolidate memory. When we lack sleep, our capacity to recall memories (and create them) is almost entirely blocked. This is because our brains form these neural connections when we are in a state of deep sleep.
Weakened Immune System
It is often said that restful sleep is the best medicine. In many ways, this is entirely true. According to WebMD, sleep deprivation makes us more prone to falling ill to everything from the flu and the common cold to severe viruses like H1N1. By practicing proper sleep hygiene, we can protect ourselves by reinforcing our immune systems.
Our immune system is our natural shield against pathogens and viral illnesses. When we lack sleep, our bodies start to preserve energy wherever it can. As a result, our immune systems do not work as hard so that more energy is preserved for our brains and our general cognition. As our immune system starts to back off, we become more susceptible to disease and sickness.
Loss of Memory
If you have any been severely sleep deprived, you can probably recall feeling slow to remember basic information like common names or places. This can interfere with our ability to perform to our potential at school, at work, or in our day-to-day lives.
Sleep deprivation blocks our ability to cement memories in our minds. It also interferes with our ability to recall memories that have already been made. This is because memories are formed in the brain during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is one of the most critical phases of the sleep cycle.
When we are exposed to blue light from our electronic devices, our bodies cannot enter REM sleep as quickly as they otherwise would. It also causes our REM cycles to not last as long. This has devastating effects on our ability to remember information the next day.
It’s simple: sleep is necessary for memory formation. So, if you are cramming for that big exam the night before, always make sure you put your phone down and get to sleep at a reasonable hour. Otherwise, all that preparation might be for naught.
Tips for Responsibly Using Technology at Night
While it’s true that blue light-emitting technology affects sleep in negative ways, there are some rules of thumb to responsibly use them. By following these rules, you can make sure that your sleep quality (and sense of well-being) are not compromised by your electronic devices.
- Keep your phone out of reach while you sleep
- Turn your phone on “sleep” mode overnight
- Download apps that filter blue light from your phone screen, such as Twilight or f.lux
- Turn your phone face-down overnight to minimize any chance of light pollution
- Try to refrain from using digital technologies for 30-60 minutes before bed