Smartphones and Disruptive Sleep: Simple Steps to Better Habits

man in bed on his smartphone next to his sleeping wife

Nearly everyone owns a smartphone today. The conveniences they provide are too numerous to count. But at the same time, these and other mobile devices have some downsides. In fact, researchers are finding that smartphones and sleep do not mix very well. Since mobile devices were introduced, Americans’ sleep quality has progressively declined. Studies now show that smartphone addiction may be a big part of the problem. But fortunately, smartphones and sleep can coexist. By following a few simple rules, you can have your smartphone and restful sleep, too!

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Are Smartphones and Sleep Problems Really Related

One of the biggest challenges has been trying to determine if smartphones and sleep problems are connected. After all, sleep problems are common, and a number of things can cause poor sleep. From work-related stress to an uncomfortable pillow, several culprits exist. However, a study involving hundreds of people shows trends linking smartphones and sleep problems. Specifically, participants in the study who used their smartphones the most had worse quality sleep. And those using their devices right before bed had the greatest risk for poor sleep.

Other studies have also shown the same trends occurring among teens. Between 2012 and 2015, the number of teens who were sleep deprived significantly jumped by 22 percent. Nearly half of all teens now sleep less than 7 hours a night! Interestingly, the use of smartphones and other computer devices also increased during this time period. None of the other variables that researchers examined could explain the trend. It seemed pretty clear that smartphones and sleep problems were connected among the teens surveyed.

How Are Smartphones and Sleep Problems Linked?

woman in bed sleeping with her hand on her smartphone

When it comes to smartphones and sleep, three major explanations can account for sleep disruption. First, smartphones cause opportunity costs. In other words, if you’re on your smartphone, you aren’t sleeping. The opportunity to sleep is simply lost because you’re on your mobile device. This actually seems to be one of the biggest problems among teens.

Second, the content of what’s on your smartphone can affect your sleep quality. For example, we often check our email, read the news and review our work calendar on our smartphones. If any of these cause us to worry or to be stressed, then sleep difficulties may result. The anxiety produced by what we read or view is thus another way smartphones and sleep problems are linked.

Lastly, and most interestingly, smartphones and sleep problems are connected physiologically. The blue light emitted by smartphones and other mobile devices mimic sunlight. As a result, our brains produce less of the sleep hormone melatonin, and this causes sleep difficulties. Our sleep-wake cycles are regulated by melatonin in part, and when it is lacking, sleep quality declines. In fact, studies have measured melatonin levels in people who read either e-books or regular books before sleep. Those individuals who read e-books had lower melatonin levels by comparison.

Smartphones and Sleep—Developing Good Habits

When it comes to smartphones and sleep, basic sleep hygiene rules still apply. You should strive to keep a set sleep schedule; wind down before bedtime and make your bedroom environment comfortable. These additional practices should also be considered when it comes to smartphones and sleep hygiene.

1. Avoid Smartphone Use Before Bedtime

As a general rule, sleep experts suggest avoiding the use of smartphones and tablets an hour before bedtime. This is particularly important to note if you plan to view content that might be stimulating or anxiety-provoking. Take time to relax and set the smartphone aside. This will help your mind and body prepare for a good night’s sleep.

2. Use Apps and Screen Dimmers

If you choose to read an e-book or need to use your smartphone before bed, options that can help protect your sleeping time exist. You can reduce your screen’s brightness as much as possible to reduce the light-stimulating effects that disrupt sleep. In addition, smartphone apps are available to change the blue light to amber or orange tones. This way, your melatonin levels are less prone to be affected, and your sleep quality will be preserved.

3. Make Time to Be Smartphone-Free

Sometimes, it’s simply about maintaining a well-balanced life. Eat well, exercise and set aside time each day to “disconnect” from your smartphone. You might just be amazed by what you can accomplish with the extra time away from your phone. In addition to being more engaged in life, you will likely find you sleep better as well.

Smartphones and Sleep Can Coexist

In today’s fast-paced world, you have enough distractions that can interfere with a good night’s rest. You don’t need to let your smartphone contribute to these problems. Regardless, smartphones and mobile devices are here to stay, and sleep remains important for good health. By setting a few limits and adopting healthy habits, you can live in a world where smartphones and sleep can coexist. Ultimately, this will allow you to be the best you can be—connected, balanced and rested.

Need better sleep? Download a FREE Guide to Better Sleep for 20 simple habits to help you sleep more soundly.

About the Author

Dawna is a mom of two young kids, puppy lover, ice cream lover, chocolate lover, and lover of any ice cream with chunks of chocolate in it. She is the author of seven books, a business owner, certified health coach, motivational speaker, and creator of the 5-Day Detox and the 14-Day Clean-Eating Program. Dawna appears regularly on local and national television. She has appeared on the Today show, Martha, MSNBC, HSN, and morning news programs on NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox. Dawna is a highly sought-after speaker and has done speaking engagements for Chobani, Disney, American Heart Association, Mass Mutual, Wharton Business School, Women’s Entertainment Television, PGA Tour, Super Bowl Leadership Forum, Susan G. Komen, and many more.
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