The scary effects of technology on sleep
17 May 2019
Catching up on your favourite drama or scrolling through social media sounds like the perfect activity to chill before bedtime, but these seemingly innocent actions can actually be very destructive to your sleep quality. Scientific research has shown that technology can indeed disrupt your sleep – here’s how it works:
Photo: Active Health
How technology interferes with your sleep
• Blue light emitted
You may have heard of the “blue light filter” on your digital devices, a special setting designed to reduce the amount of blue light emitted from your phone. This blue light isn’t actually blue per se; it’s simply the type of light that digital devices with screens tend to produce. Blue light interferes with your body’s production of melatonin – the hormone responsible for making you feel sleepy. This is why exposure to excessive amounts of blue light via devices like smartphones makes it hard to fall asleep or even stay asleep.
• Electromagnetic radiation
Apart from emitting blue light, our technological devices also emit electromagnetic radiation, such as those via Wi-Fi signals. This scientifically proven phenomenon affects our sleep the same way blue light does – by destabilising our body’s melatonin balance and causing us to feel awake at bedtime.
• Emotional stimulus
The activities we engage in with our digital devices can be keeping us awake by stimulating our brain to stay alert and focused. Playing video games definitely gives that adrenaline rush that keeps your brain way too stimulated for sleep. Even other seemingly innocuous activities can be responsible for keeping your brain in a wakeful state, such as having online conversations or watching a funny video.
• Noisy notifications
Some of us don’t have the habit of turning off the notifications feature of our phones when we sleep. While some will be able to sleep right through the noise, the bleeps and vibrations can end up being a disturbance and cause you to wake up one too many times.
Technology can interfere with your sleep in a variety of ways Even if you don’t realise that your sleep is being disrupted, you will probably experience some of the following effects of not having enough quality sack time:
The side effects of disrupted sleep
Feeling sluggish during the day despite getting sufficient hours of sleep is a sign that you weren’t getting enough restorative (deep) sleep, resulting in low energy levels and an overall sense of exhaustion.
• Difficulty concentrating and poorer memory
A lack of deep sleep has profound impacts on your mental energy and cognitive functions as well. This translates into problems concentrating and staying focused, as well as difficulty remembering or recalling certain things. If you are at work or at school, this mental exhaustion will definitely come as a setback to your productivity levels.
• Irritable mood
Sometimes you just feel that everything (and everyone) gets on your nerves for no obvious reason. Chances are you didn’t just wake up on the wrong side of bed – you just haven’t been getting enough quality sleep.
Photo: Active Health
In the long run, disrupted can lead to severe sleep deprivation problems and even result in sleep disorders such as insomnia. Prevention is always better than cure, so it's always a good idea to take active steps to minimise the disrupting effects of technology on your sleep cycles. There are three simple ways you can go about managing your technology usage and sleep patterns at the same time: keeping a sleep journal, using technology to help you sleep better and practicing good bedtime habits.
Keeping a sleep journal
Maintaining a record of your sleep habits is the simplest way to increase your level of awareness with regards to technology's impact on your sleep hygiene. All it involves is that you keep a log of:
- What time you go to bed
- What time you actually fall asleep
- Any unusual sleep occurrences such as waking up during the night
- What time you woke up
- Any naps you took
- Any sleep-affecting activity such as consuming caffeine and alcohol
The simple act of jotting this information down will make it much easier for you to track if you are getting enough sleep and identify factors that are affecting your sleep. If you're conscious about paper usage, you can make use of the many sleep tracking apps available on your smartphone! Sleep journal apps work the same way as paper ones do and are perhaps even more convenient as you don’t have to keep a book handy all the time or worry about running out of space.
Using technology to help you sleep better
Wearable devices such as pulse trackers can help to collect your sleep-related data , allowing you to better identify any issues that are potentially keeping you from achieving your best sleep. The data from these wearable devices can help you monitor how much quality sleep versus light sleep you are getting, so that you can better adjust your sleeping habits. While this may all sound very complicated, wearable technology can actually be a simple solution to your sleep problems – talk to an expert at our Active Health Labs to find out how to incorporate these health monitors into your life.
6 simple bedtime habits for better sleep
1. Watch what you consume
What you eat and drink has a direct effect on how well you sleep at night. Caffeine and alcohol are notorious for keeping us alert for a long time – up to six hours in fact! This is why drinking alcohol, caffeine-dense tea or coffee past midday can cause you to feel unusually alert at bedtime, so avoid drinking caffeinated or alcoholic beverages after 3PM. Additionally, drinking too much water before bedtime can also lead to some late-night bathroom trips that can disrupt your sleep.
2. Sleep and wake up at regular timings
Ever had a friend who swears that they naturally wake up at the same time every day because of their “internal body clock”? This seemingly magical clock is more grounded in reality than you might think. In scientific terms, it’s known as the circadian rhythm and is responsible for regulating our sleep patterns. Sleeping and waking up at regular timings will help to stabilise your circadian rhythm so your body will intrinsically know when it’s bedtime, making it easier to get some deep, restorative sleep.
3. Create a pre-bedtime routine
Having a pre-bedtime routine will make it easier for your body to ease into sleep every night. This bedtime routine can be anything, as long as it’s a relaxing activity that helps to calm your mind down. Reading a book, listening to soothing music or taking a warm shower are examples of activities that can put your body and mind at ease, just in time for bed.
4. Keep your devices away from the bedroom
While there are many ways to carry out a pre-bedtime routine, digital devices should definitely not be a part of it, so keep your devices out of the bedroom! Don’t even charge them in the bedroom as you will be tempted to use them – turn them off and leave them outside.
5. Make sure your bedroom is comfortable
A comfortable bedroom is so much easier to fall asleep (and stay asleep) in, so make your bedroom as cosy as you can. Don’t hesitate to splurge a little on good quality mattresses, linen and pillows as these can make a whole lot of difference to your sleep quality. Also, keeping your room dark and cool makes it more conducive for sleeping as your body’s circadian rhythm is sensitive to these environmental factors.
6. Don’t force yourself to fall asleep if you can’t
If you find yourself lying in bed for a long time and just watching the minutes tick by, don’t lie there and keep forcing yourself to fall asleep because it’s not going to happen. Watching the clock only stresses your body out and makes you feel more alert. If you find yourself having difficulty falling asleep, get out of the room and do something else until you actually feel the urge to snooze.
Photo: Active Health
As much fun as it is to relax while using your digital devices before bedtime, such habits should not get in the way of proper rest. Even if you don’t feel the disruptive effects of technology on your sleep cycle now, the effects could accumulate over time and result in full-fledged sleep deprivation problems. Stop letting technology interfere with your sleep – the latter is so much more important!