We’ve all been there, lying awake at night, tossing and turning, unable to get to sleep. We look for reasons why it might be happening, asking questions such as, ‘Is it something I’ve eaten?’ ‘Is it what I drink?’ ‘Could it be stress?’. It could be any of those. But equally, it could also be because of your smartphone!
Using Smartphones Like Never Before
Across all age groups, smartphone ownership has never been higher in the UK. And it’s predicted that by 2019, these owners will on average spend just over 2 hours a day on their phones. The worst offenders are those aged 16 to 24, who are currently spending more than seven hours a day on them; gaming, chatting on social media and watching YouTube.
Smartphones Creeping into our Bedrooms
Increasingly, using a smartphone has become part of our night-time routine. According to research by Deloitte, at the end of the day, more than three-quarters of us (79 per cent) check our smartphones within the last hour before going to sleep. And again, this is worse amongst younger people, with 66 per cent of 16-19 year old checking their phones in the middle of the night too!
But Why Are Smartphones Bad for Sleep?
When we are trying to fall asleep, it’s recommended that we try and unwind beforehand. We can read a book, practise mindfulness, even count sheep. Checking social media, watching videos and playing games on your phone would appear to be the opposite of this. Smartphones are hugely stimulating, putting the brain into overdrive at just the wrong time.
And Then There’s the Light!
‘People are exposing their eyes to this stream of photons from these objects that basically tells your brain, 'Stay awake! It's not time to go to sleep yet’ Dr. Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, told Business Insider.
In 2013, a study undertaken by the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute found that blue light (which is the ‘stream of photons’ emitted by all smartphones), can suppress melatonin, the hormone that regulates the human body’s sleep-wake cycle. Without normal levels, sleep can be significantly disrupted.
Why Do We Need Sleep?
Far from being for ‘wimps’, sleep is vital to the health and the wellbeing of body and mind. It’s the time when muscles and tissues are repaired. It’s the time when the brain consolidates memories. And it’s the time when the brain cleans itself.
This latter reason for sleep is one that is increasingly seen as important. It is thought that the glymphatic system, which removes toxins from the brain, works better when we are asleep.
What Happens if We Don’t Get Good Sleep?
Lack of sleep can have various short-term and long-term effects. On a day-to-day basis, poor sleep can leave us bad tempered, unfocused and lethargic. In the long-term, for those who suffer from chronic sleep problems, it can be the cause of serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes. And it can also shorten your life expectancy.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
Although sleep requirements can vary slightly from person to person (with a small group able to get by on 5 to 6 hours), most healthy adults need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to be at their best. Children and teens need even more. And despite the idea that our sleep requirements decrease with age, most older people still need at least 7 hours.
So, What Can We Do About Smartphones then?
Well, the easiest option available is to simply turn your phone off a few hours before bed and forget about it. Even light use can affect your brain, so it’s better to just leave it alone. And don’t take it up to your room as the temptation might be too great to just have a quick look at Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
Or, Alternatively, Block the Blue Light!
If you’re determined to bring the phone into the bedroom, then there are now a number of ways that you can limit exposure to blue light, which might help reduce the impact that your smartphone is having on your sleep.
Several phones now come with blue light filters, such as the one on Samsung phones which is available in the drop-down menu.
There are also various glasses you can buy that filter out blue light. As an extra bonus, these glasses can be used to block out the blue light from other sources during the day, such as laptops, tablets and PCs (which can also impact on your sleep.)
There are so many reasons why you might not get a good night's sleep, why add to the problem with smartphones? Emails can wait until morning, the news is still going to be there when you wake up and just how important are those tweets? Much better instead to get the sleep you need.