Technology has fast integrated itself as a key part of our modern day lives. Thirty years ago mobile phones were still only the property of high flying company executives, today over 90% of the world owns a mobile phone. This massive increase in the availability of technology has improved our lives in many ways, but what does it mean for our sleep pattern? In this blog I’d like us to explore the relationship between sleep and technology. We’ll examine the effects of technology such as blue light and its negative impact on sleep and what we can do to combat the effects of technology on the way we sleep.
Over one hundred years ago before electricity became widely available in most homes, the sun was our primary source of light. The end of the day would signal the coming of the darkness and the night was devoid of light. Nowadays evenings are illuminated with the glow of fluorescent light bulbs, screens and technology. But it seems there is a price for spending our evenings bathed in light.
Our circadian rhythm refers to our inbuilt mental clock, that helps us to wake up at the right time, and know when it’s time to go to sleep. Blue light can cause the brain’s circadian rhythm to be thrown out of sync with your body. This can lead to problems sleeping and feeling lethargic upon waking up. Over time this over exposure to blue light can cause serious health risks, such as muscular degeneration, cataracts, and even an increased risk of cancer.
Tech before bed
Aside from the direct effect of blue light on sleep, the very nature of the way we use and interact with technology can be harmful to a good night’s sleep. A study recently found that using an electronic device two or less hours before sleep can lead to decreased sleep quality , an increased chance of waking up in the night and that participants found it harder to get to sleep.
Technology has become a fundamental part of our lives, from work to socialising. The natural line of separation between hours of the day we allocate for relaxation and the hours of the day we spend working has become blurred. Mobile phones and other device based tech, means we are constantly contactable, and never quite out of the work loop. By reading work emails, checking social media or just being aware the phone may buzz any minute serves to keep our minds active and alert during the time of the day it should be relaxing and switching off.
How technology keeps you up
A recent study found that 75% of children and 70% of adults use technology in their bedrooms. Many experts believe that use of mobile technology should be discouraged in the bedroom to counteract the growing number of people that experience a poor night’s sleep. Everything about your mobile phone is designed to keep you locked in and wide awake: from the colourful icons designed to catch your attention, to the layout of social media.
One of the underlying reasons mobile technology can interrupt our sleep cycle is the addictive nature of mobile phones. In 2020 the world health organisation recognised digital addiction as a worldwide problem, where excessive online activity and internet use lead to inability to manage time, energy, and attention during daytime and produce disturbed sleep patterns or insomnia during nighttime. This compulsion to be online, is part of the reason that technology can be so detrimental before bed.
Sleep Friendly technology
Finding the balance between using technology and looking after ourselves can be difficult, but there are a number of practical steps one can take to ensure the technology we use is minimally invasive to our sleep pattern.
Blue light filters
There are a range of apps designed to limit the blue light emitted by your laptop, tablet or mobile device. These apps work on a timer, slowly reducing the amount of blue light emitted by your device as you get closer to bedtime. Using dark mode on your phone will also darken the background of your apps, causing less blue light and stimulation. Most of these apps are free and readily available. Here is a list of some of the top ranked blue light filter apps.
Tracking your sleep
Journaling can be a great process to track changes in your body or life over an extended period of time. Keeping a record of how well or badly you have slept can help identify causes of bad sleep, and demonstrate how changing certain factors can promote better sleep over time. You can keep it simple: by keeping a pen and paper diary and noting what time you went to sleep and woke up, how well you slept and what you incorporated into your bedtime routine. Or there are a number of free apps that you can use to help facilitate this journaling process. These apps have added functions such as an audio record so you can tell what parts of the night your sleep was disturbed.
White noise whilst you sleep
The best sleep environment is one devoid of light, sound and distractions. White noise machines are designed to help with the sound factor of sleep. Providing a steady and consistent source of noise, a white noise machine can help cover up or mask the audible distractions that may prevent us from getting to sleep or wake you up during. This is especially useful for those who may struggle from outside noise whilst sleeping
Device free zones
Device free zones have become a popular way of limiting our use of technology. By restricting the use of mobiles, tablets or other similar devices in spaces like your bedroom you prevent yourself bringing the stresses and strains of your day into your sleep routine at night. Breaking away from the addictive nature of phones is a vital step to balancing your mind and preparing for a good night’s sleep.
The pervasive presence of technology can significantly impact our sleeping pattern and overall well being. By creating clear boundaries between our time work and engaging with technology and our hours of relaxation, we are on the first step towards a healthier lifestyle and a better night’s sleep. Little changes to the way we use our technology can almost certainly help you to get a better nights rest. So unplug your devices, unwind and sleep well.