Do electronic devices take a byte out of your sleep?
The Issue of Sleep
On this Memory Foam Mattress blog, we have considered a number of Sleep Issues, with articles such as Sleep Apnea and Hypopnea, Snoring Solution: Look to the Pillow, Pain in the Neck, Back Pain, Mattresses, and Cushions, Digestive Disorders and Sleep Disturbance, Choosing the Correct Mattress and Sleeping Position, A Time to Sleep – Part 1, A Time to Sleep – Part 2, and Counting Sheep – Getting to Sleep.
The latest blog articles to now, Screen Use and Quality of Sleep: Part 1 and Screen Use and Quality of Sleep: Part 2, report and analyze responses to the Memory Foam Mattress survey Screen or No Screen. This article explores how using electronic devices affects sleep.
Why Is This Important?
How we sleep and how we function during the day are as related as night and day – literally. Personal experience, observation of others around us, and medical/scientific studies tell us this is true. Even when people appear to function well with very little sleep, time will tell as sleep deprivation impacts their health.
Except for technophobes and cultural enclaves that avoid modern conveniences, electronic devices are ubiquitous. They are all around us. Most of us have and use them, even our children (except in families who withhold them until a child reaches a certain age or level of maturity). Several of these devices have become essential for information and communication, even in our work and schooling, especially mobile phones, smart phones, tablets, and computers. We don’t just leave them at the office, but have them in our homes and with us when away from home.
Common concerns in the use of mobile electronic devices (especially phones) are relationships, public courtesy and safety.
– Relationships: Photos are posted of several people in a room together, communicating on their handheld devices instead of with each other.
– Public courtesy: A sign in several churches reads, “Please silence your phone, so you only hear God calling you.” Phones should be silenced for public meetings as a courtesy for all there.
– Safety: One highway reminder is, “It’s safer to get off the road to text than to go off the road texting.”
A critical concern is our health and general well-being. Many health problems are related to lack of proper sleep, including obesity, diabetes, circulatory diseases, nerve issues, etc. It is in sleep that our bodies rebuild, our brains recharge and sort out information. Our immune systems depend on rest to fight threats to our health.
As we examine the influence of electronics on our sleep, we will see the need for balance, so the benefits of technology are not outweighed by their detriments.
A Widely Recognized Concern
Entering the search term “electronics and sleep issues” brings up several pages of quality results from sleep issue organizations, medical information sites, professional organizations, scientific journals, and news media. Browsing through these web pages reveals
(1) a common concern that the use of electronic devices close to bedtime, especially those with glowing screens, degrades quality of sleep, and
(2) a consensus that users of these gadgets designed to improve our quality of life need to control their use to maintain or improve their quality of life.
Responses to our survey have already been reported and analyzed in preceding articles. The answers reflect the responders’ self perceptions and should be taken that way. Our sources for this article are the results of medical/scientific studies and professional observations.
What Devices Are Used?
Electronic devices widely used are desktop and laptop computers, television, cell phones, smart phones, tablet, and electronic games. Some include digital clocks and surveillance camera monitors. This list will change as new products are developed and marketed. What is notable is that these are being combined in smart phones and tablets.
How These Devices Affect Sleep
Electronic devices negatively affect sleep in three ways: Time, Stimulation, Light.
This is the simplest one to explain. Use of these can be so habit-forming – some even say addictive – because of the attraction and interest they generate. It is easy to stay up watching the next TV program, follow developing news, or (especially in the Eastern Time Zone) to watch a sporting event late into night. Those who play video games want to keep playing, unmindful of the hour. It can be hard to cut off conversations with friends, either by voice or by text. For parents who would have a hard time getting their kids to set things aside and go to bed, this becomes harder. Social media has become a time dominator for many.
Sleep studies show that we do not fall asleep in an instant. We usually take a half hour or more to wind down. This is largely controlled by hormones released by the pineal, pituitary, and hypothalamus glands, all next to the brain. The last two glands respond to the stimulation of activity and sensory inputs. In part, this is a defensive function, making us ready to respond to an emergency. It stimulates the production of serotonin which keeps us awake, and inhibits the production of melatonin, which produces sleep.
The light from screens and readouts on electronic devices interferes with sleep. This is more so for blue light, less so for red. By default, most screens have blue light, even as part of white light and of several other colors.
The pineal gland receives signals from the eyes about the intensity and colors of light they receive (this is also true for chickens, who lay eggs more frequently in summer than in winter). Blue light means daylight, as does greater light intensity. The pineal gland relays this message to the pituitary gland, which delays the production of melatonin. This is why the survey asked how long before bedtime the use of screen devices was stopped.
The Memory Foam Mattress Blog article Counting Sheep – Getting to Sleep addresses the issue of insomnia – the difficulty or inability of getting to sleep. There may be physiological, medical, mental, and emotional reasons for sleeplessness. On the other hand, this is often the result of our activities. In this case, I call it Induced Insomnia.
Avoid Screen-Induced Insomnia
Professional advice for getting to sleep includes setting regular bedtimes, avoiding heavy meals less than two or three hours before bed, also avoiding caffeine and alcohol during this period, avoiding stress close to bedtime, and shifting to more relaxing activities such as pleasant reading, lower light levels, and relaxing sounds. Now we can include ceasing electronic screen use at least a half hour (or longer) before bed. If our reading is in an e-book, use an e-ink reader, which does not emit blue light.
This is more critical for children and youth, but may be harder to enforce. One suggestion is to remove all electronic screen devices from the children’s and youths’ bedrooms. Recharge them in another area of the house, set on “no sounds” – not even “vibrate” – so a message or call coming in will not wake them up. In a University of Chicago Medical article, Kristen Knutson says that parents set the example for their children, who are more like to follow rules that are patterned by their parents.
Quality of Sleep
Delayed sleep and irregular sleep lead to poor sleep, especially when it means less sleep. The Blog article A Time to Sleep – Part 1 discusses the question of “How much sleep is enough?” We naturally go through several sleep cycles. One of these is deep sleep, when tissue building takes place, and another is the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle when we dream. If these are missing or interrupted, it can lead to a “bad hair day” in the short term and health problems in the long term. One too-common symptom is dozing at the wheel or inattention while operating production machinery, which results in traffic and occupational injuries and deaths.
We cannot control our heredity and how it affects our sleep. Damage from past illnesses and injuries may be irreversible. However, we may control what we do leading up to bedtime. Having the right mattress can help us sleep well, but poor use of electronic devices can undermine the benefits of our beds.
- Screen Use and Quality of Sleep: Part 1
- Screen Use and Quality of Sleep: Part 2
- Sleep Apnea and Hypopnea
- Snoring Solution: Look to the Pillow
- Pain in the Neck
- Back Pain, Mattresses, and Cushions
- Digestive Disorders and Sleep Disturbance
- Choosing the Correct Mattress and Sleeping Position
- A Time to Sleep – Part 1
- A Time to Sleep – Part 2
- Counting Sheep – Getting to Sleep
- “Why Electronics May Stimulate You Before Bed”
- “How Blue Light Affects Kids & Sleep”
- “Can Music Help You Calm Down and Sleep Better?”
- “Scary Ways Technology Affects Your Sleep”
- “How Technology is Changing the Way We Sleep”
- “Technology Tips to Make Your Home More Sleep-Friendly”
WebMD, “Power Down for Better Sleep” by Heather Hatfield
- “Electronic devices, kids and sleep: How screen time keeps them awake” by Matt Wood (Posted on February 17, 2016)
- “Are kids getting enough sleep?” by Kristen Knutson, (February 17, 2016)
Psychology Today, “Wired and Tired: Electronics and Sleep Disturbance in Children” by Victoria L. Dunckley M.D. (Posted Mar 12, 2011)