Do you ever find yourself replying to texts and emails late at night? Or choosing to watch another episode of a TV show when you know you should go to bed?
When artificial lighting was introduced to our everyday lives, it started affecting the way that we slept. Now, with more technology available at our fingertips than ever before, it can delay the time it takes us to fall asleep at night, and decrease the quality of our sleep once we do drift off.
When we’re exposed to lots of light at night, it can negatively affect our natural circadian rhythm (body clock), making us feel more awake at night when we should be sleeping. Blue light, which comes from screens on electronics such as phones, laptops and TVs, is particularly disruptive to our sleep. This exposure to light lowers the level of melatonin in our body, a hormone which influences circadian rhythms.
Several studies have been recently carried out that involved asking people about their relationship with technology in order to find out its connection to our sleeping habits. While these surveys aren’t the most scientific of studies, they do imply that the world is becoming increasingly reliant on technology and people may be sacrificing their quality of sleep because of it. Some of the results and conclusions of this research are:
- A study in Norway found that the more time teenagers spend using electronic devices during leisure time and before bed, the more it affects their sleep quality.
- 71% of American smartphone users sleep with them, including 3% who sleep with them in their hands. A previous study carried out by Ofcom found that in the UK, around 38% of adults admitted to using their smartphones after it woke them, with an even higher percentage for teenagers.
- A survey by TiVo found that 31% of their survey respondents have lost sleep due to “binge watching” TV shows, defined as at least three episodes of the same program in the same day.
Previous research has found that the amount of people with sleeping disorders in the UK is increasing and 33% of British people claim to get by on just 5-6 hours of sleep a night. It has been suggested that these increases could be due to the amount of technology what we use on a regular basis, particularly late at night.
A recommendation to use your electronics less or not at all in the evening isn’t going to be a solution for the majority of people, but luckily there are a few things that you can do in order to limit the effect that electronics will have on your sleeping habits:
- Keep electronics out of the bedroom. The ideal solution to not letting technology affect your sleep is to stop using electronics one or two hours before bed and keeping them out of the bedroom. This gives your brain time to relax without them and will have less of an effect on your melatonin levels. The main purpose of your bedroom should be to sleep so removing phones, TVs, laptops and tablets altogether can be a good idea to stop you from getting distracted or being tempted to look at them late at night. Unfortunately, some people may not find this possible, but luckily there are some forms of technology which can help us to sleep, or at least limit the effect that electronics have on us.
- Use blue light filters. One solution to help lessen the effect that blue light has on your melatonin levels is to buy blue light filters for your electronic devices or wear glasses designed to block out blue light. There are also some apps for smartphones and tablets which will adjust your screen lighting throughout the day so that you see warmer colours at night. These can help you by not allowing blue light to get through, therefore not allowing it to interfere with your sleeping pattern. However, it has been proven that green light can also affect sleeping schedules, although not to the same extent.
- Expose yourself to a lot of light during the day. Just as exposing yourself to too much light at night can affect your circadian rhythm, so can spending too much time in the dark during the day. Being exposed to lots of light during the day and then less at night can help you to maintain your natural circadian rhythm, which should help you to sleep at night.
Not all technology is bad for your sleeping habits
There are some forms of technology which are designed specifically to help you sleep. For example, sleep trackers are becoming increasingly popular. These cover everything from wearable technology such as the Fitbit or Jawbone, which claim to monitor the amount of time you spend sleeping and your sleep quality, smartphone apps such as Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock, which aims to analyse your sleep cycle so it can wake you in your lightest sleep phase, or more comprehensive devices such as Sense, which is reportedly set to raise £25m in funding. Sense is an orb which monitors light, temperature and humidity in your room while recording snores, sleep talking and whether you’re lying still or moving around via a clip on your pillow. As the sleep sensor market is growing, many other sleep sensors are on the market or in development which monitor everything from heart rate to skin temperature.
Some other devices which are purposed to help you sleep are: white noise machines/smartphone apps; pillows which cool down when you’re trying to sleep; and lights which mimic sunlight to wake you up gradually, rather than a noisy alarm clock which can shock you awake then leave you feeling groggy in the morning.
If you believe that tracking your sleep will help you to get and maintain a healthier sleeping schedule then it might be a good idea. However, you should be wary of using electronics such as your smartphone or tablet late at night and keeping them in your bedroom. At the end of the day, you need to make sure that you have good sleep hygiene, including: keeping your bedroom a sleep-friendly environment; avoiding stimulants such as caffeine or even doing exercise too soon before going to bed; and developing and sticking to a pre-sleep routine which is soothing and promotes good quality sleep.