Technology has revolutionized the way we live. It offers us a world of opportunities: clear and fast communication, entertainment, work operations, information at our fingertips, apps to help us organize our lives, and so much more. However, our need, desire, impulse, or obligation to look at our screens, whether on computers, phones, tablets, or TVs, can interfere with healthy sleep patterns. The good news is that with smart use, we can minimize the effects of tech on sleep and find ways to use devices to sleep more soundly and protect our physical and mental health.
If you are experiencing a mental health concern, please reach out for help. BetterHelp is a resource for advice and to connect with licensed mental health professionals.
4 Ways that Screen Use Affects Sleep
- Our bodies may be confused by blue light at night: Tech screens typically emit blue light. In nature, there is more blue light in the morning, which serves as a signal that it’s time to wake up. Natural light at sunset tends to be red, signaling our bodies that it’s almost time to sleep. Outside of nature, the blue light emitted from screens can confuse our natural sleep rhythms, giving us signals that we should be awake (as the natural blue light in the morning does).
- Our bodies’ natural release of melatonin—“the sleep hormone”—may be disturbed: Melatonin, called the sleep hormone, helps sync our sleep-wake patterns and helps us make the transition to sleep. Our bodies release it naturally, but if the release is interrupted, sleep difficulties can arise. Darkness prompts the production of melatonin, while light stops it. So, if the body is exposed to light from screens too much during the day and night, melatonin production may be disrupted.
- Looking at screens at night can make our brains too stimulated to sleep. Our minds can stay active long after using technology, which can make relaxing enough to fall asleep a challenge. Think about what our devices are good for—entertainment, communication, information, and working, for example. All of these are great for waking hours, but none are conducive to sleep.
- Alerts and notifications with lights and sounds can delay, interrupt, and prevent sleep.
- Feeling that we need to constantly be accessible by phone can interfere with sound sleep.
4 Results of Poor or Irregular Sleep
- Irregular sleep and wake times and inconsistent amounts of sleep can lead to long term health problems, including high blood pressure, obesity, altered metabolism, high blood sugar, and heart disease.
- Sleep loss is associated with mood swings, depression, anxiety, and other psychological risks.
- Sleep loss can slow cognitive processes, such as thinking and remembering.
- When sleep deprived, our decision-making skills and judgment may not be as sharp. Ironically, people who don’t get enough sleep may have a skewed judgment of their sleep habits, thinking that they’re adapting to too little sleep and functioning while they’re actually living with negative effects of too little sleep.
- Anxiety can worsen with overuse of screens. Screen use, anxiety, and sleep interruption can become a harmful cycle. If you feel anxious about being apart from your phone because you don’t want to miss anything, you may check it more often, which can lead to more dependence on it and can interfere with sleep. The blue light exposure and more phone use throughout the day, the constant engagement with content on the phone, and the temptation to check the phone constantly, including at night, can fuel anxiety and interfere with sleep.
Smart Ways to Use Screens and Protect Your Sleep
- Try to stop using screens at least30-60 minutes—or preferably longer—before going to bed.
- Keep your phone away from your bed. Put it in another room so that you’re not tempted to check it and so that alerts don’t disturb you. Using “do not disturb” settings can also help.
- If you use screens in the evening, dim the brightness and turn them to “night mode.”
- Wearing blue light blocking glasses may be a good option during the day. Some people find that they’re able to fall asleep more quickly and reduce eye strain when they regularly wear blue light blocking glasses while viewing screens.
- Practice good sleep hygiene. In addition to putting away screens at night, the following tips can be helpful for developing healthy sleep habits:
- Try to wake up and go to sleep around the same time each day to get into a good, healthy sleep-wake pattern.
- Have a consistent nighttime routine, including taking time to relax and get ready for bed.
- Get enough exposure to sunlight during the day.
- Avoid too much caffeine and alcohol, as well as heavy eating before bed.
- Have a comfortable mattress and bedding.
- Keep the room cool and comfortable.
- Block out light—not just from screens—but also from outside and inside by using curtains or other window coverings and turning off lights.
How Apps Can Help You Get Healthier Sleep
- Apps that play filtered “white noise” or “pink noise”—background sounds—may encourage sleep. Some people find the background hum of a constant sound to be soothing and to block out other disturbing noises, such as sounds from outside. For people who use these apps, putting the phone out of reach can prevent the temptation to reach for the phone at night.
- Apps for relaxation can help prepare for sleep. Using apps for deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation can be good way to wind down.
- Reminder, calendar, and note apps can alleviate stress by helping us feel more organized. Feeling organized and in control can help calm the mind so that we can fall asleep more easily.
- Activity, health, and sleep tracking apps may be beneficial. Apps can help us set measurable goals for healthy sleep and wake habits and motivate us to be accountable to ourselves.
With smart screen habits, we can get more restorative sleep, which can help protect mental and physical health and improve productivity and focus. Taking control of our own technology use can be empowering. Unplugging at night can help us make the most of our days.
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with Mind-Diagnostics.org. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.