Did you know that around 40% of people use their phones before going to bed? If you’re someone who can’t imagine going to bed without scrolling through social media or watching your favourite TV show before going to bed, this article is for you. We go over the reasons why technology is keeping you up and we explore all the drawbacks that come with using electronic devices right before going to bed. But, in order to give you a balanced picture, we’ll also mention some of the positive sides to using our devices before going to sleep.
We know how daunting this change might seem at first glance, and, just like any other habit, it can be hard to implement in our lives. To help you during this process, we included a section where we share some tips on how to transition to a technology-free bedroom. Apart from our tips, we also included an FAQ section where we go over some of your most pressing questions.
With that out of the way, it’s time to start to find out why technology is keeping us up.
Why Technology Is Keeping You Up
As much as we don’t want to admit it, using technology before bed might be the reason behind our poor sleep hygiene. There are various reasons why this occurs, which we’re about to delve into.
Various studies indicate that using technological devices in bed might make it harder for you to fall asleep and cause sleep disturbances throughout the night. The most terrifying results occur in studies of sleeping patterns of children.
According to a study published in Glob Pediatr Health, children who have a habit of watching television before bed got around 30 minutes less sleep than those who didn’t have that habit, whereas those who scrolled through their phones before bed got approximately one hour less of sleep than average. If this behaviour continues for years on end, you can imagine how detrimental it will be to a child’s sleep quality.
But children aren’t the only ones who are prone to poor sleep quality that’s caused by using electronics before bed. A study conducted on students for Healthcare concluded that using devices before bed also impacts university students’ sleep quality. Students who spent more than 30 minutes using their devices before going to bed had a higher risk of depression and their sleep quality was much poorer compared to other students.
So, what is to blame for the negative impact of technology on our sleep? Blue light is the culprit of the sleep-related problem associated with use of technology.
As many of you already know, our bodies respond to sunlight by signalling to our brain that we need to stay alert and awake and inhibiting melatonin production. During the day, our bodies don’t release melatonin – the natural sleep hormone that occurs in our body. Melatonin production begins at night, when our bodies are trained to be prepared for bed.
Just like our bodies respond to natural lighting, they also respond to artificial light produced by our technological devices, also known as blue light. The blue light that comes from our phone and laptop screens suppresses the production of melatonin, so our brain doesn’t receive a signal that it’s time to unwind and go to bed. One of the many drawbacks of reduced melatonin production is that we find it much harder to fall asleep at night. Apart from reduced hours of sleep which can be detrimental to our overall health, this also causes a lot of frustration and reduces our quality of sleep. We all know that feeling of tossing and turning in our beds, unable to fall asleep and knowing that we’ll wake up tired the next day.
In addition to blue light, electromagnetic radiation is also to blame for our poor sleep hygiene. Similarly to blue light, devices emit electromagnetic radiation that also inhibits our body’s melatonin production, in that way reducing our overall sleep quality.
Different Types of Technology Affect Us Differently
We’re already familiar with the general way electronic devices affect our sleep quality, but does that apply to every technological device, to the same degree?
Turns out, not all technological devices are created equal. The way they interfere with our sleep quality depends on several factors, including how close we are to the screens and what the light setting is on our devices.
Some of the most common devices we keep in our bedroom include computers, smartphones, TVs, Kindles, and smartwatches. For instance, watching TV before going to bed, while not ideal, is significantly less disruptive than, say, scrolling through our phone in bed. At the same time, watching TV isn’t the same as wearing a Smartwatch before going to bed.
It’s not only the type of device we use that impacts our sleep, but the proximity of our screens matters a great deal as well. If you’re new to the process of trying to limit your technology use before bed, we recommend starting small – maybe switch from scrolling through social media to watching TV or listening to music before bed.
What Are the Drawbacks of Using Technology Before Bed?
Apart from reducing melatonin production and emitting electromagnetic radiation, using technology in the bedroom can cause other sleep-related side effects that contribute to poor sleep quality.
One of the ways technology can interfere with your sleeping patterns is by keeping your brain alert and stimulated. All those notifications we receive on our phone, whether it’s work, family, or friends-related, engage our mind and keep us up.
A very common occurrence when we scroll through social media before going to bed is being exposed to bad news and negativity. Not only does this upset up, but it will keep us up and thinking, which results in less sleep overall and poorer quality of sleep.
Just like our bodies, our minds require rest and relaxation throughout the day, but this need is especially prevalent before going to bed. If we don’t give our mind a rest before going to sleep, chances are we will wake up tired and depleted, which could easily result in poor sleep the next day. And so the vicious cycle continues.
Another incredibly common side-effect of using technology in the bedroom is being constantly interrupted by notifications. While some sleepers have the habit of turning their smartphone and laptop notifications off (or using aeroplane mode), this isn’t the case for everyone. If you’re someone who sleeps with their Wi-Fi on and notifications on full blast, it might be time to rethink your decision.
Keeping even one technological device can be disruptive for our sleeping patterns, let alone multiple. It’s hard for us to resist checking our notifications once we hear that dopamine-releasing sound, so we rush to our phones and computers and don’t think twice about it. The blue light emitted from our devices can only hinder our ability to fall asleep afterwards, and we’ll be tossing and turning in our beds sooner than we think.
Are There Any Benefits to Using Technology Before Bed?
You’re now familiar with all the drawbacks associated with using technology before going to sleep. On the other hand, as with any habit, there are some benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked that are the result of using technology in the bedroom.
For instance, technology can make us feel less lonely. If you’ve had a bad day at work or you’re going through emotional turmoil, the last thing you’ll want to do is be alone with your thoughts at the end of the day. This is when talking to a friend or a family member can be more beneficial and outweigh the negative side-effects that come from blue light emission. Talking to a loved one and feeling supported can make you feel safer, which, in turn, might cause you to fall asleep faster.
Another way using technology can be of help is by helping us relax. This is especially true when it comes to passive consumption, such as listening to music or having the TV on. If you have your comfort TV show on, or you’re listening to your relaxing playlist, it might actually be much easier for you to fall asleep as opposed to being left alone with your thoughts in a dark room.
Tips for Avoiding Technology Before Bed
Using our phones or computers before going to bed is not an easy habit to break, regardless of how aware you are of the consequences. To help you in this journey of avoiding technology before sleep, we have included several tips that might be of help.
Find a Replacement Habit
We use technology for various different reasons, but one of the most common reasons why we reach for our phones or computers before going to bed is because we want to escape our current thoughts and enter into a blissful world of distraction. Luckily, using technology that can mess up our sleep patterns isn’t the only way to do that. One of the best habits you could cultivate before bed is reading. Studies show that reading as little as six minutes per day can help lower your overall stress levels. By fostering different methods of relaxing and distressing before bed, you will find it much easier to fall asleep.
Set a Dedicated Time for Using Technology
We’re all guilty of reaching for our phones at various points throughout the day, without having any intention or aim. Whether it’s when you’re waiting for your coffee order or riding the bus, these frequent indulgences can do more harm than good in the long run. Setting a dedicated time during the day to use technology and scroll through social media can help you set boundaries with your electronics use at night and in the morning if your goal is to avoid checking social media first thing in the morning. Of course, doing this is much harder if your job is online, and, let’s face it, all our jobs nowadays require use of technology. With that said, implementing this rule when you finish work can bring many benefits.
Announce Your New Change to Your Friends and Family
Many of us are anxious about leaving our phones on airplane mode during the night out of fear of missing an important call or emergency. If you feel this way, we recommend starting with small steps like turning your Wi-Fi off to avoid receiving notifications but leaving the option for your friends and family to call you if they really need you. Don’t forget to tell your friends and family about your new habit and intentions so that they know you won’t be reachable at certain hours of the day.
Create a Relaxing Night-time Routine
Reading isn’t the only thing you could potentially include in your new bedtime routine. Activities such as journaling, meditating or praying, and stretching are great to add to your bedtime routine. They will help you relax and fill out that time where you would normally use your phone or computer for entertainment.
Now that we went over all the drawbacks and some of the benefits that might come with using technology in the bedroom, when exactly is it time to say goodbye to our phones and computers? Is it a couple of hours before going to bed or will thirty minutes prior to when we’re planning on falling asleep suffice?
How Long Before Bed Should I Stop Using Technology?
The truth is – there isn’t a consensus as to how long before bed you should put your devices down. We’re all different and have unique sleeping habits, so different time chunks will work differently on everyone. You have to choose a time frame that will be sustainable for you in the long run, one that doesn’t feel too restrictive and is going to bring you a good balance between being sufficiently entertained and having enough time to relax before bed.
With that said, a good rule of thumb you should try following is refraining from using technology at least an hour before bed. While an hour might seem like a long time initially, once you get into the habit of entertaining yourself in a different way, it will become a seamless habit. It’s perfectly normal to not have the motivation at the start to spend an hour off your electronic devices before going to bed, but hopefully some of the tips we included above will serve you in helping you establish this new, healthier habit.
Why Does Technology Keep You Awake?
There are several reasons why technology is keeping us up. For starters, electronics emit blue light that sends the wrong signals to our brain and fools our bodies into thinking it’s daytime. Additionally, using electronics keeps our brain alert and stimulated, which makes it harder for us to fall asleep.
Does Technology Affect Sleep?
Yes, technology can have both a negative and a positive effect on sleep. The drawbacks include poor sleep hygiene, sleeping fewer hours a night than desired, and lower quality of sleep. Some of the positive effects are associated with making us feel less lonely and helping us relax.
How Long Before Bed Should You Turn Off Electronics?
There isn’t a concrete recommended amount, but anything from half an hour to an hour is good for starters.
We hope you enjoyed our article on why technology is keeping you up and we hope we convinced you to leave your electronic devices aside at least half an hour before going to bed.
One of the main reasons why technology is keeping you up is because devices emit blue light that inhibits our melatonin production and keeps us up at night. Devices also emit electromagnetic radiation which has similar effects to blue light. While there are many studies that confirm the negative effects of using technology before bed, we can’t ignore the benefits that can come with this habit such as helping us feel more relaxed.
You can help yourself transition into a technology-free bedtime routine by adding some relaxing habits like reading and stretching, setting a dedicated time each day to use technology, and announcing your new change to your family and friends.
Fuller C, Lehman E, Hicks S, Novick MB. Bedtime Use of Technology and Associated Sleep Problems in Children. Glob Pediatr Health. 2017;4:2333794X17736972. Published 2017 Oct 27. doi:10.1177/2333794X17736972
Pham HT, Chuang HL, Kuo CP, Yeh TP, Liao WC. Electronic Device Use before Bedtime and Sleep Quality among University Students. Healthcare (Basel). 2021;9(9):1091. Published 2021 Aug 24. doi:10.3390/healthcare9091091