It is fair to say that bedtime is one of the most anticipated moments of the day. After rushing around all morning and afternoon, the thought of snuggling under the covers and recharging your body batteries is enough to put a smile on your face. However, there is a ‘modern’ routine that can have a negative effect on your sleep hygiene. That is, the use of technology and digital devices before turning off the lights and dozing off for the night.
To feel refreshed and energised for the day ahead, adults should enjoy at least 7 hours of sleep per night. Teenagers, instead, should rest for about 8 to 10 hours, whereas school kids (6 to 12 years old) should snooze for anything between 9 and 12 hours a night. But scrolling through social media or reading text on a bright screen could drastically reduce your daily sleep intake, which can in turn spur the development of other unwanted issues.
Here, we explore some of the ways in which technology influences our sleep patterns, while also highlighting how to nip the problem in the bud.
The impact of technology on your sleep
Sleep plays a crucial role in preserving your good health and boosting your well-being. In fact, the way you feel when you are awake often depends on the quality of your previous night’s rest.
But if you are in the habit of tapping away on your smartphone as you lie in bed at night, you may have realised that morning wake-ups are becoming a bit of a struggle. This is because technology and screen time can hinder both the quantity and quality of your sleep.
First of all, it can interfere with your circadian rhythm, the 24-hour wake-sleep cycle that is part of your body’s internal clock. Its main function is to help ensure that your physiological processes are optimised at specific points throughout the day. In fact, when darkness falls over the evening, your body automatically produces and releases ‘melatonin’, a hormone that conjures feelings of drowsiness and tells your body it’s time to go to bed. However, staring at a digital screen – which emits something known as ‘blue light’ – can slow down or even decrease the natural release of melatonin. This is because exposure to light and bright screens can trick your brain into thinking that it is still daytime, meaning that you are not ready for bed.
Therefore, using technology and electronic devices can cause you to stay up later and leave you with fewer hours of much-needed rest. In the long run, this can have a detrimental impact on your overall well-being. Sleep deprivation, in fact, comes with a wide array of drawbacks, including moodiness, forgetfulness, lack of motivation and concentration, fatigue, and increased sickness.
What’s more, it has been found that sleeping for fewer than five hours per night can put your health at risk. Short sleepers have a 40% higher chance of developing serious illnesses, as tiredness can trigger or worsen severe health issues. Not to mention that lack of sleep for those aged 50 and above can even raise the chance of dying before 75 by a quarter. In this respect, Dr Harriet Leyland remarks on the importance of a good night’s sleep. “Insufficient sleep has been linked with many conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity,” she says. “So, it is crucial to stick to a regular sleep routine with regular bedtimes and wake-up times, even at weekends, and to switch off devices at least an hour before bed.”
Reading emotional news (positive or negative) on social media or playing exciting, action-packed video games before bedtime can also impair your sleep pattern. In fact, this can increase both your heart rate and brain stimulation, making it difficult to properly calm down, relax, and nod off. Not only that but using technology at night can also reduce the amount of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM is a crucial stage of your night’s rest and has a large range of crucial functions, such as keeping and consolidating information you have learnt during the day. So, as well as impacting your sleep time, electronic devices can pose a threat to the quality of your all-important snooze too.
What can you do about it?
Now that we have ascertained that night-time use of technology can determine your quality of sleep, let’s have a look at what you can do to tackle the problem from the outset.
Bear in mind, though, that if you have already cut down on screen time but still struggle to fall asleep, there may be something else that’s impacting your sleep routine. This could be anything from sentiments of stress and anxiety to physical pain. Whatever the issue, it is always wise to have a chat with your doctor, as they will be able to help you identify the cause of your restlessness and provide you with the right advice and – if necessary – a GP prescription.
If electronic devices keep you awake at night, there are several steps you can take to minimise your technology consumption and restore your sleep pattern. Here are a few you may want to take into consideration:
- Read a printed book – If you are a lover of stories and literature, reading a book before you turn off the lights can work as a healthy, unwinding bedtime ritual. However, make sure that it is a printed edition, as reading an e-book on an iPad can suppress your melatonin production by over 50% at night.
- Stick to a regular schedule – Getting into the habit of ignoring your electronic devices one or two hours before going to bed can be hugely beneficial. You may even want to set up a daily alarm clock that reminds you it is time to turn off your TV, laptop, or tablet and enjoy the rest of your tech-free evening. By doing this on a regular basis, the urge to check your device at night will soon fade away, and you will be able to fall asleep faster and sounder.
- Keep your phone away from reach – There is no hiding that the temptation to pick up your phone as soon as you hear a sound notification is difficult to resist. It takes one tap to fall into the maze of apps and social media. Make sure to leave your phone on your desk or in another room, so that you cannot get to it easily. After all, if you are already cosy under the covers, there is a good chance you will give your phone notification a miss if it is not within reach.
- Practice some meditation – Meditation is an effective way to unplug and settle down for the evening, as it favours the release of melatonin and calms your heart rate. So why not give it a go? As well as working wonders on your physical well-being, it will also provide you with a relaxed mental state that paves the way towards a satisfying night’s sleep.
From halting the production of sleep-inducing hormones to affecting the length and quality of your night’s rest, technology can become an unhealthy companion. Therefore, keep your devices away from reach and set up a tech-free evening routine. Not only will it allow you to snooze well at night, but it will also enhance your overall well-being and prevent unwanted health conditions.