Are smartphones sabotaging our sleep?

Smartphones are an integral part of our day, we are able to hold the world in the palm of our hands. But are they sabotaging our sleep? Let’s see what the experts have to say.

Are smartphones affecting our sleep?

We all have them, we all use them and most of us have a love-hate relationship with them. We are living in the age of the smartphone, most people will have a device permanently attached to their hand. Whether it’s to keep abreast of current affairs, quickly fire off an email to a colleague while you’re stuck in traffic, count our steps throughout our day or to create an epic playlist that will motivate us while we’re training at the gym or out for a daily run.

The smartphone puts the world in the palm of our hands, especially now that social opportunities are limited due to COVID-19 and lockdowns. We are able to find a new place to eat, chat with friends near and far and capture a single moment in time with a camera that will rival professional photographers. You can book anything from airline seats to movie tickets, workout, order a car and do your weekly grocery shopping, all with the tap of a fingertip.

While they certainly appear to make our lives easier, they also pose a very real threat. They are interrupting our sleep patterns. Studies have shown a direct link between smartphone use and an interrupted/poor night’s sleep.

How are smartphones affecting our sleep?

The answer is simple, it’s all in the colour blue. The trouble with a smartphone is the blue light that the screen emits. The colour blue light has a short wavelength and simulates daylight. This means our brains don’t produce enough melatonin, the chemical that puts us to sleep and helps us stay asleep. While blue light is beneficial during the day by boosting attention capacity, reaction time and mood. It is detrimental at night because it throws the body’s natural circadian rhythm out of whack.

According to the Harvard Medical School, the blue glow from a screen prohibits melatonin secretion drastically and studies have shed light (pun intended) on a possible link to diabetes, some cancers and heart disease.

Light, at night, is why we don’t get enough sleep. Think back to the turn of the century, before the invention of the electric lightbulb, our main source of light was the sun, after the sun went down we relied on candles which left us in relative darkness. But, today we are constantly surrounded by bright lights, in our homes and on our screens.

In America in 2012 studies showed that most of the country owned a smartphone, and the link between interrupted sleep and screen time was considerable.

Do You Have a Smartphone Addiction?

Do you have a smartphone addiction?

In a study conducted in the US, 46% of people said they checked their phone first thing in the morning and 83% admitted to using their smartphone before they went to bed, most of the users were Millennials (aged 18-24) with 13% saying they only disconnect after they go to bed. Some users even admitted to waking up in the middle of the night to check their phones and keep updated on social media.

This means that not only are our brain waves being affected by the ominous blue glow that appears to be pervading our lives but our sleep patterns themselves are being disturbed by the constant need to be connected.

The sad fact is that quite a few of us are unable to train without our smartphones - or a Fitbit, that is inevitably linked to a smartphone or device. Whether it’s because we are tracking our steps, heart rate and calories burnt or we just need the constant noise of our social media feed to keep us motivated. And of course, if you don’t Instagram your session, did it really even happen?

Be honest, how many gym sessions have you cancelled because you forgot your headphones in another bag?

How to break a Smartphone Addiction

In short, we need to break our smartphone habit before it becomes an addiction. And, one of the ways to do that is to create good sleep hygiene patterns.

Many experts will tell you not to have your device in the same room that you sleep in. But, if you are unable to go cold turkey and are only able to fall asleep with your device clutched to your chest, then we suggest turning it off at least an hour before you want to fall asleep. Although, some experts have said that you should turn your electronic devices off at least 2-3 hours before bedtime. The same goes for certain e-readers and tablets. While we think they are harmless because they’re readers and not a mobile - they emit the same blue light. We recommend rather reaching for a book and reading the old fashioned way - you’ll catch more ZZZs.

You can also place your smartphone across the room, and don’t leave it charging right by your bed. You will be less tempted to check it, and you won’t be able to hit the snooze alarm, which means you won’t miss out on your early morning gym sessions. Really, it's a win-win all around.

There have been studies that show, if you read for a minimum of 6 minutes before turning out the light, your quality of sleep will improve and you are less likely to wake up in the middle of the night… unless bedtime reading is Dracula or the Haunting of Hill House. In which case, we can’t help you.

Another way of getting around the blue light that your screen emits, is to expose yourself to as much bright light during the day as possible. Exposure to blue light earlier on in the day can lead to a bigger melatonin boost in the evening, thus promoting better sleep. For an added sleep boost, add a night/yellow filter to your screens to filter out some of that blue light in the evening.Lack of sleep and poorer sleep quality increase the likelihood of feelings of stress and anxiety, while stress itself reduces the quality and duration of sleep. In order to live a happier and healthier life, we need to prioritise self care activities - like getting our 7 to 8 hours of sleep in every night.

For more tips to help you look after your brain, body and belly, download our guide, Mastering the Art of Self Care.

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