Mind & Body

For Better Sleep, Banish Your Smartphone From the Bedroom

What's your bedtime ritual? If you're like us, you probably scroll through your phone, maybe checking social media, catching up on Curiosity, or playing a game. When you're done, you set your alarm app and plug in your device to charge. Does that ritual ever last beyond your bedtime? What about when you wake up in the middle of the night — do you ever check your phone then? If your answer to these questions is yes, you're not alone. And according to science, that's ruining your sleep.

Now I Tweet Me Down to Sleep

Two studies from 2017 demonstrate just how serious this problem is. The first, published in June in the journal PLOS One by researchers at the University of California San Francisco, looked at the sleep habits and smartphone screen-time of more than 650 people. They found that the people who spent the most time gazing at their phones slept the fewest hours and had the lowest quality sleep. Plus, those who spent the most time on their phones at bedtime took the longest to fall asleep.

Another paper, published in September in the journal Sleep Medicine by researchers at San Diego State University and Iowa State University, looked specifically at teens' sleep habits and screen time via an analysis of two large national surveys. The researchers found that the number of teens in the U.S. who reported sleeping less than seven hours a night increased by a whopping 22 percent between 2012 and 2015. You know what else increased in those years? The number of teens who owned smartphones. The analysis found that time spent online was linked to fewer hours of sleep, and the researchers attributed that to the prevalence of smartphones.

Blue Light, Begone!

Look, we get it. It feels good to see what your friends are doing on Facebook before you hit the hay. Playing your favorite game helps you unwind before bed. And you don't even own an alarm clock — if you didn't keep your smartphone and its alarm nearby, you'd never wake up in the morning.

But for every rationalization you have, there's a reason it's no good for you. For one thing, simply exposing your eyes to the blue light from your smartphone screen has been shown to mess with your circadian rhythms, reminding your brain of the blue sky of daytime and throwing a wrench in its production of melatonin. You could use a twilight-filter app or fancy blue-light-blocking glasses to ease the interference, but unfortunately blue light is just one thing that's thwarting your sleep.

Another factor should be obvious: even if you use your phone to wind down, it often does the opposite. You scroll through Facebook and notice your weird uncle's ridiculous political opinions, which get your blood boiling. You're this close to beating the final level of your game, and your heart begins to race. Even just seeing something unexpected, whether it's a news article or a shoe ad, wakes up your brain and makes it harder to go to sleep.

So what should you do? We suggest you channel Ariana Huffington and make the bedroom a no-device zone. Get an old-school alarm clock and use that to wake up in the morning. That way, you'll drift off to sleep without the glare of a blue screen or the excitement of social media, you'll fall to sleep faster after any midnight trips to the bathroom, and — bonus — you'll wake up excited to get out of bed and check your phone in the morning, no snooze button necessary.

Technology isn't just trouble in the bedroom. It can also interfere with your social life. In "Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other" (free with a trial membership to Audible), MIT technology and society professor Sherry Turkle describes how social media pushes us apart as it draws us together. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like.  If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

What Happens When You Check Your Smartphone Before Bed

Key Facts In This Video

  1. The stream of photons emitted from a phone screen at night tells your brain to stay awake. 00:15

  2. A bright phone screen tells your brain that it is not time to create melatonin yet to induce sleep. 00:28

  3. The vast majority of people need 7-9 hours of sleep every night. 01:10

Written by Ashley Hamer November 29, 2017

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