A recent study found that more than half (48%) of respondents sleep with their phones next to them at night. Of those who responded “No,” some still cited that they leave their phone on a nightstand nearby or beside the bed. Well, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but neither case is good for your health. Whether you are an adult or an adolescent, there’s plenty of research to support not having your phone anywhere near your bed.
Now, I know I’m not your mom. I can’t tell you what to do with your life, nor would I want to. However, I can present some peer-reviewed research that you should consider. If you are experiencing difficulties falling asleep, have insomnia, or can’t stay awake during the day, solid data suggests your phone may be the reason why.
Take, for example, a systemic review of 20 studies shows that there is strong and consistent evidence that electronic device use and access at bedtime can be associated with decreased sleep quality and quantity, as well as increased sleepiness during the day. That means if your phone is within arm’s reach of your bed, you are more likely to sleep less deeply and for a shorter amount of time. This impacts how well you can think and function during the day. To be clear, these results occurred even if the participants didn’t use their phones in bed. Even the presence of a cell phone in the bedroom can increase the likelihood of adverse sleep outcomes.
Sleep and phones: The perfect match
Sleep is vital to our mental and physical health and especially to children’s biopsychosocial development. The impact of mobile media and portable devices on sleep quality is alarming. Many of us find that our smartphones are the first thing we open when we get up in the morning, and then the last thing before we go to bed at night. Even though it’s difficult to break this habitual pattern, it is detrimental to our sleep hygiene as well as our mental and physical health.
It is harmful to our sleep hygiene to continue using our smartphones until we are asleep, then checking them every morning.
The most affected are pre-teens, who lose eight to nine hours of sleep each week. Granted, that study did have a relatively small sample size, but it is one of the first ones to look in depth at how sites such as TikTok and Instagram are driving a “fear of missing out” in children among their peers. Social media has migrated the social environment away from the school grounds to our kids’ bedrooms, and it’s open 24/7, with active hours peaking at night.
Lack of sleep can lead to depression. Study data from hundreds of teens showed that teenagers who used social media before bedtime had more trouble sleeping, and this was strongly linked to higher rates of depression. So there’s a kind of chain reaction where teens lying awake at night on their phones end up losing sleep, leading to more depressive symptoms. This may lead to lower academic performance among students.
Social media has made it possible to move the social atmosphere away from schools and into our bedrooms. It’s available 24/7.
The graph below shows the longer-term effects that sleep deprivation can have on your body.
But it’s not just kids and teenagers; studies found that bedtime mobile phone use is negatively related to sleep outcomes in adults, too. A study showed that more mobile phone usage at night was linked to increased fatigue, longer sleep hours and greater quality of sleep for those in their 40s. This was also associated with shorter sleep durations and earlier rise times for adults in their 60s. It will be interesting to see if these effects are exacerbated by youth’s continued use of nighttime technology.
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What’s the solution?
These concerns were echoed by companies who have developed specific settings for phones that can be used at night. However, research has shown that Apple’s iPhone Night Shift mode did nothing to help improve the quality of the 167 participants’ sleep. In the end, a slumber with Night Shift disabled resulted is better quality than if you didn’t use your phone. Given these findings, there’s not much reason to think that equivalent Android features, such as Samsung’s Bedtime Mode, would fair any better.
Some of the negative effects can be attenuated by blue light filters, but they are not all.
How can our smartphone use cause us to fall asleep while on the phone? To start, blue light of your cell phone screen delays the release of the melatonin hormone responsible for controlling your circadian rhythm (or sleep-wake cycle), is called. These effects can be partially mitigated by blue-light filters, but they are not eliminated completely.
Second, think about how you use your mobile device. It’s not just the glow of the screen that interrupts your sleep. Apps and software are designed to keep your attention and stimulate your brain. As soon as your phone beeps or vibrates, there’s a temptation to check it in case it’s something important — all the more reason to manage your notification permissions. Finally, you should be concerned about the effects of phone radiation this area is still being researched.
It takes just one month for the negative effects to be reversed and you can improve your sleep quality. The following four-week-long restriction of mobile phone usage at bedtime can help to reduce sleep latency, enhance sleep duration, improve quality and reduce presleep awakening (high heartbeat and inability to sleep), improve positive affect (the ability to feel positive emotions) as well as working memory (a process that aids reasoning and decision making).
To get your sleep back on track, it takes only four weeks to limit phone use before bed.
Your body’s health is dependent on your sleep habits. A lot can be done to avoid the temptation of using your phone two hours before going to sleep. If you aren’t getting a good night’s sleep and sleeping with your phone in or near the bed, would you be willing to reduce your phone usage when the sun goes down and leave your phone in another room overnight? It’s possible that you will be grateful for it.
Digital Wellbeing features can be used to track how many hours you’re spending on your smartphone. You can also set daily limits for certain apps to alert you when you’ve exceeded the time you want to spend using them. Technology and the way we use it must ultimately benefit our health.