How Electronics Affect Sleep

Written by
 Purple Staff
Last Updated
July 30, 2022
min read

Have you ever had difficulty sleeping after scrolling through your phone, skimming a novel on your e-reader, or binge-watching your favorite show? It’s because using electronic devices with screens in bed has been scientifically proven to negatively impact the way you sleep.

It’s not uncommon for people to bring their phones or tablets to bed to help them fall asleep faster, but the truth is the opposite – using smart devices before bedtime can stop you from falling asleep and sleeping well. 

Here, we will discuss the importance of unplugging your devices to improve your quality of sleep.

What Is The Effect Of Electronics On Sleep?

Bringing your smartphone or tablet to bed can seem like a harmless habit – many people use their gadgets as a way to pass the time before bed. However, numerous studies have shown that technology use at bedtime, specifically using gadgets with backlit screens, can make it difficult to achieve quality sleep in both children and adults. 

Research shows that insufficient sleep affects approximately 35% of American adults, 72% of high school students, and 25% of young children. Sleep deprivation caused by poor sleeping habits can have many adverse effects on your health, including the following:

  • Impaired cognitive function: Lack of sleep caused by screen exposure before bed can affect long and short-term memory – making concentration, problem-solving, and learning more difficult.
  • A weakened immune system: This increases your likelihood of getting sick and even affects recovery time. During the onset of the coronavirus disease, numerous cases were linked to irregular sleep patterns and stress.
  • Heightened stress levels: Due to the light emissions and notifications you receive on your devices, your body produces more cortisol (stress hormones from the adrenal glands) that keep you awake and alert. This can lead to more serious health issues in the long run, including an increased risk of chronic illnesses such as obesity, cardiovascular issues, and stroke.
  • Increased risk of chronic illness: A constant sleep deficit can increase your risk for chronic mental and physical diseases such as cancer, diabetes, anxiety, depression, obesity, and heart disease.

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Why Electronics Keep You Up

The human body has an internal body clock, known as the circadian rhythm, that dictates your sleep-wake patterns and allows you to carry out your daily tasks. To keep your circadian rhythms working, your body produces melatonin, a hormone from the pineal gland that aids in regulating your sleep-wake cycle. 

However, screen time can throw off your circadian rhythm, leading to poor sleep quality. This is because electronic devices such as tablets, smartphones, e-readers, and TVs emit what is known as blue light. LED and fluorescent lights can also emit blue light.

However, most blue light is emitted by the sun. It is beneficial to humans during the daytime because it sends signals to the human body to remain active and alert. That being said, too much exposure to blue light at night can make it hard to fall asleep because it blocks the body’s ability to produce melatonin naturally.

Blue light keeps you awake because it boosts your attention, mood, alertness, and ability to respond to what’s happening around you. However, prolonged blue light exposure can be disruptive when it’s time to sleep. Blue light overexposure from technological devices has a possible causal relationship with sleep disorders such as insomnia and can lead to future health problems.

How Technology Impacts Sleep Quality

Before artificial lighting was invented, the sun was our original light source. After sundown, our circadian rhythms adjusted because the dark meant it was time to sleep. 

Today, in a world where everything is constantly illuminated or going digital (especially with smart devices keeping us connected 24/7), many people end up sleeping less because they’re constantly glued to their screens. 

With technology evolving at a faster rate than ever before and electronic devices becoming even more affordable, most people now have access to some form of technology – even children. One study shows that, by the 5th grade, 40% of children own a phone. With more prolonged screen time, children are more prone to childhood obesity, which can lead to other health problems.

How Much Sleep Adults And Children Really Need

The average adult requires 6-8 hours of sleep per night, while young children need at least 9-12 hours. However, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, people reported spending more time on their devices as a way to keep distracted from the lockdown. This shorter sleep duration resulted in negative physical symptoms such as elevated blood pressure, fatigue, and more.

Benefits Of A Technology-Free Bedroom

The bedroom’s main purpose is to be a restful and relaxing sanctuary. With too much screen time being akin to caffeine in the way it affects your sleep, keeping the bedroom tech-free can improve your sleep quality. 

Here are some of the benefits of a tech-free bedroom:

  • Better sleep: The less time spent glued to your screens, the better and more restful your sleep will be.
  • Fewer distractions: By keeping your smart devices out of the bedroom, there are fewer distractions to keep you from falling asleep.
  • Better boundaries: By establishing that the bedroom is for sleeping only, you can also learn to set boundaries in other areas of your life.
  • Better quality time: If you share a bedroom with a loved one, you’ll find more opportunities for meaningful and intentional connection.

Tips For Using Technology Before Sleep

Bringing your devices to bed may feel like a good distraction or way to wind down before falling asleep, but experts suggest cultivating what’s known as good sleep hygiene practices. Sleep hygiene is defined as creating mindful habits and behaviors that help you achieve restful sleep. It can also prevent sleep disorders like insomnia and other serious health conditions down the line. 

Here are some ways to improve your sleep hygiene and prevent electronics from getting in the way of sleep.

Turn Off Notifications

Sleep disturbances can be caused by constant vibrations from your device. Most smartphones and laptops have a “Do Not Disturb” mode that can silence your notifications for a scheduled amount of time, allowing you to sleep undisturbed throughout the night. 

Create A Consistent Pre-Bedtime Relaxing Routine

Studies have shown that doing the same thing every night before bed can help aid in achieving a good night’s sleep. Whether it’s practicing yoga, taking a warm bath, or lighting an aromatherapy candle, having a relaxing nightly routine can help you get the shut-eye you need.

 Establish Rules For Using Electronic Devices In Bed

When it comes to using your electronics in bed, boundary setting can be an excellent sleep hygiene practice for both children and adults. This can prevent an inconsistent sleep schedule and provide you with the discipline you need to maintain these boundaries.

Create A Dedicated Space For Electronics 

Placing all of your devices with screens in another room is a great way to lessen the negative impact of electronics on sleep. If you cannot keep your technology out of the bedroom, at least keep your tech out of arm’s reach to prevent a sleep deficit due to distractions.

Set Screen Off Times

Enforcing “screen-off” times 2-3 hours before bedtime can help you avoid cultivating poor sleeping habits and feeling fatigued the following day. This prevents your circadian rhythm from being affected by blue light exposure and allows you to fall asleep earlier.

Use A Basic Alarm Clock

Many people bring their phones to bed because they use their mobile phones as an alarm. If this sounds like you, consider investing in a regular alarm clock on your side table. This lessens your dependency on tech without worrying if you’ll wake up on time. 

Keep Bedroom Lights Dim

If you find it difficult to fall asleep in total darkness, having a dim light in your bedroom can help you achieve healthy sleep patterns. Red lights are ideal for the bedroom as they are less likely to interrupt your circadian rhythm and prevent melatonin secretion.

 Use Night Mode

Most smartphones have a system-wide night mode or dark mode. The dark mode is a display setting that emits less light and prevents eye strain. If you use an e-reader, some models allow you to adjust the backlight, so you can continue reading with minimal eye strain.

Invest In Blue-Blocking Glasses

Blue-light-blocking glasses are designed to filter or completely block blue light emitted from electronic devices. If you work at night or spend most of your day working in front of a screen, these can be especially useful. You can also download apps that filter blue light at nighttime.

Frequently Asked Questions On Electronics And Sleep

Does technology cause insomnia?

Yes, especially if you spend too much time on your devices. Too much screen time affects your body’s production of melatonin, which can lead to negative consequences on sleep health. Studies have also shown that an increase in screen time and reports of insomnia have been rising in parallel, suggesting a strong relationship between the two.

Is it okay to sleep with the TV on? 

The answer is unclear, as the impact of the use of technology on sleep quality varies from person to person. 

Some people use the television at bedtime as a passive device to help them fall asleep. There is no supporting evidence that watching TV an hour before sleeping can adversely affect your sleep quality. However, we recommend that you make your bedroom a tech-free environment to help you sleep better and longer.

How many hours before bed should you turn off electronics?

Studies have shown that the body’s natural rise in melatonin begins to kick in after 1.5 hours of exposure to bright screens, so it is advisable to turn off your digital devices 2-3 hours before bedtime. This is a good benchmark for both children and adults.