Posted on Friday, July 1st, 2022 at 6:32 pm    

Today’s kids, teens, and adults spend a decent chunk of time looking at a screen, whether for online schooling, video games, communicating with friends, or working from home. A recent study published in JAMA found adolescents’ screen time jumped to 7.7 hours per day while the world responded to COVID-19’s first waves. How does this added screen time affect our body’s sleep routines, and what can we do to keep healthy habits?

Light Emissions from Devices Affect Sleep

Since the 2010s, scientists have been studying how blue light affects our circadian rhythms and eye health, especially during nighttime hours. This cool-colored subset of visible light has the largest energy potential. Some researchers have successfully used blue light to help people stay awake and alert during the day or lower their stress levels. However, they’ve also discovered a link between low melatonin levels and exposure to blue light before bed.

Electronics manufacturers have responded by creating “night mode” features filtering out blue light or building low-blue-light displays at a hardware level. These features will not completely remove blue light from your environment, as LED bulbs and fluorescent lights also emit it. However, if you try minimizing your exposure to blue light beginning a couple of hours before bedtime, you could possibly see improvements in your sleep quality.

How We Use Our Devices Affects Sleep

Sometimes, how we use our screens affects our sleep, not just the nature of the screens. There’s no single reason why our digital habits impact our sleep. Many of them can alter circadian rhythms over time. Some examples include:

  • Video gaming – Many developers build games to mentally stimulate players. Whether the stimulation comes from endlessly tapping on cookies or solving a strategic and colorful block puzzle, games will force your mind to be alert, possibly against your body’s circadian rhythm.
  • Notifications – It’s not text messages, emails, or reminders themselves that affect our sleep. Our minds will stay on alert as we anticipate the vibration and audible “pings” of incoming messages.
  • Information overload – Our negative mental biases and the variety of news, studies, and online information at our fingertips put us at risk for anxiety, depression, and unwarranted stress. Paired with the stimulation we get from manipulating touchscreens and keyboards, these feelings can contribute to insomnia down the road.

How Do We Recover?

Whether your screen time comes from watching TV, scrolling through social media on your phone, playing on your Switch, or working late on the computer, you can allocate your time and use your devices to optimize your sleep habits. Some tips we recommend include:

  • Establish a “no-screen” time – Keep time away from screens at the end of your day. Ideally, ensure your work, studies, and play sessions conclude two to three hours before bedtime.
  • Establish a “no-screen” bedroom – Removing TVs, phones, or computers from your bedroom, or simply keeping them out of your bedroom, removes the temptation to engage with screens before bedtime. A relaxing bedroom in line with your circadian rhythms promotes better sleep.
  • Install or use sleep-friendly programs – Some devices, particularly smartphones and laptops, have built-in tools that allow you to track your screen time and get reminders when it’s time to walk away. If you must use screens at night, consider using your device’s night mode to filter blue light. You may be able to set your device to turn on night mode features automatically at dusk.
  • Keep an accountability partner – Whether it’s a roommate, a parent, or your significant other, an accountability partner you trust can help you stay away from your screens as bedtime approaches. You can leave your devices with them at night and have them remind you to adopt healthy habits around screens.
  • Work through “second-order effects” – Phenomena originating from screens and social media, such as “doom scrolling” or fear of missing out (FOMO,) can cause anxiety that may give you insomnia. Share your feelings with your trusted family, friends, or accountability partner and discuss strategies with them to conquer negative emotions.

Consult a Sleep Professional

Your sleep routine can affect many other areas of your overall health. For some people, there may be more than simply screen time issues that affect their ability to fall and stay asleep.

The team at Silent Night Therapy focuses on sleep problems, including sleep apnea and insomnia. Our medical experts stay up to date on research advances detailing the effects of screens on sleep health, and we use state-of-the-art diagnostics and treatments to help our patients rest easy. Take a five-minute online evaluation today, or call our office at 631-983-2463 for a complimentary consultation.