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How does your smartphone affect your sleep?

By Abbie Stutzer | 2 Minute Read

Your smartphone is great for a lot of things. Finding a new local eatery, directions to that eatery, and calculating a tip for your meal at that establishment are just a few benefits of this modern technology. But there’s one thing that smartphones aren’t great for: sleep.

The following are just a few of the negative ways that your smartphone affects your sleep.

How a smartphone’s blue light affects your sleep

You’ve most likely heard that the blue light that your smartphone and tablet emit is bad for sleep. The reason is simple. Blue light is the shortest and brightest wavelength. These facts mean that blue light is able to intensely pierce human retinas’ photoreceptors. So, when the human brain senses blue light from a smartphone, it “sees” it as sunlight, and then “thinks” it’s daytime.

A 2013 study from scientists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute found that blue light from self-luminous tablets can can suppress melatonin, the hormone that regulates the human body’s sleep-wake cycle. Scientists had 13 people use tablets two hours before bed. One group of people wore orange goggles, which can filter blue light. Another group wore blue-light goggles (this was the control), and the other group viewed the tablet alone. Findings discovered that the people who wore the orange-tinted goggles had higher melatonin levels than the other two groups.

Thankfully, there are a few ways you can limit your smartphone’s blue light. First, most phones have a “night shift” feature that will adjust your phone’s screen from cool (blue) to warm (yellow) light. This “yellow” light is less likely to keep a person up at nighttime. There also are apps that you can run on your laptop or tablet that reduce blue light. We’ve suggested f.lux and Twilight in the past.

Another tried-and-true way to limit your blue light exposure is to stop using your smartphone (and avoid any other screen) 30 to 60 minutes before you want to fall asleep.

Screens, including smartphone screens, can impact children’s sleep, too

If you’re a parent, you also may be concerned with how screens, especially smartphone screens, could impact your child’s sleep. Unfortunately, research shows that kids, just like adults, may lose sleep because of smartphones, too. A study from Pediatrics found that kids who sleep near a small screen, with a television in their room, or spend more time looking at “screens” in general don’t sleep as long. The study also discovered that the mere presence of a small screen in a child’s bedroom was associated with “perceived” insufficient sleep, or rest.

Engaging in smartphone activities hurts sleep, too

Although a smartphone’s blue light isn’t great for sleep, the things a person can do on a smartphone can affect a person’s sleep, too. For example, a study that appeared in Sleep Medicine discovered that games and social interactions caused stimulation that disrupted rest and sleep.

If you’re part of the 1/5 of Americans who go to sleep with their smartphone ringers on, you most likely have been awoken by a late-night call or social media notification. And even if you sleep with your phone on silent, its electromagnetic cellular and wi-fi signals could interfere with your sleep quality, too.

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