Studies are finding that using electronic devices before going to sleep or keeping a device by the bed can disrupt sleep. In the good old days, many people watched television in bed, listened to the radio or read for a while to relax and wind down. Now, smart phones and tablets are becoming popular as a pre-sleep distraction, but studies are showing they actually disrupt sleep, too.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, 95 percent of Americans use an electronic device in the last hour before nodding off. This usage is not just by adults, either. The foundation reports that 89 percent of adults and 75 percent of children regularly have an electronic device in their room.
Television is still the most common device in bedrooms. But, tablets, smart phones are MP3 players are also common bedtime rituals. Many use them as their alarm clocks, too.
The sleep-disruption issues with electronic devices like smart phones and tablets include:
- A 2013 study did correlate computer or mobile phone use right before bed with insomnia. The activities done with the devices in bed can stimulate the brain, not relax it. News articles and games that require quickness or thought, like Scramble with Friends or Words with Friends, keep the mind active, which can make it difficult to fall asleep. (The same is true with reading in bed. People have stayed up with page-turners for decades.)
- Staying up later to play with them. There is a greater likelihood of later bedtimes if people go to bed with the idea of not going straight to sleep. For example, children with electronic devices in their rooms get less sleep or poorer quality sleep than those who do not have any in their room, according to research.
- The devices remain on. They are either left on completely (who has not woken up to the TV on in the middle of the night?). Or they emit light that can disrupt sleep cycles, or noises if the device is set to make noise when alerts or emails arrive. The screen lights can trick one’s body into believing it is daytime and disrupt the production of melatonin, the hormone that helps one sleep.
- Some believe that cell phone radiation is also detrimental to a good night’s sleep. The theory is that are long as a phone is on, it is communicating with cell towers in the area and emitting low levels of radiation. In 2008, a study reported that people who were exposed to radiation from their mobile phone for a few hours before bedtime had trouble either falling into or staying asleep.
So what is the answer especially when reading in bed has been replaced with reading on an iPad or Kindle? One suggestion is to set an electronic bedtime. At a certain hour, the devices must be turned off and preferably stowed in another room. Some will undoubtedly protest that they need the distraction of television to aid in falling asleep. Those people should set the timer on the television, a feature on most sets and/or cable boxes, to a chosen curfew hour. The key thing is to make sure the television, tablets and smart phones are off during the night and do not disrupt sleep.
By Dyanne Weiss