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How Screens Mess with your Sleep

Updated on 27. Dec. 2018
Not getting a a full 8 hours? Your phone could be to blame
Not getting a a full 8 hours? Your phone could be to blame

If you are like most of us, you have your phone, computer, or tablet with you at all times during the day. It is hard to disconnect from our screens when we rely on them so heavily for work, communication, and fun. But, keeping using these electronics before bed can have a negative effect on our sleep habits.

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Computers, cell phones, and tablets all produce blue light. This blue light changes the way our bodies produce melatonin, which is the hormone that controls our sleep cycle. When we use screens before bed, the blue light tricks our bodies into thinking that it is still daytime and that it is therefore not time to go to sleep. Research shows that when our bodies do not have enough melatonin, it may be part of the cause of certain types of cancer, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.1

Our bodies follow a 24-hour cycle that is made up of the mental, physical, and behavioral changes. One of the largest factors in determining our circadian rhythm is light, where red light tells our body it is time to go to sleep while blue light tells our body it is time to be awake.

Not only does the use of electronics before bed affect your sleep, it also affects how you feel the next day. Our bodies need 7-8 hours of sleep per night to feel rested enough to get through the next day. Letting blue light interfere with your sleep will cause you to be foggy and overtired the next day.

It is not just screen use right before that is the problem, a lot of us sleep with our phones within reach of our bed. This can affect your sleep in a few ways. The first way is if you have the sound on, your sleep will constantly be interrupted by the pings telling you that you have a new email or text message. While these notifications may not wake you up completely, they can cause you to have less REM sleep. REM sleep is when we dream and it is thought it also has an effect on how we learn and retain what we have learned.2

The other way sleeping with your phone next to your bed can mess with your sleep is if you are not able to fall asleep, for a lot of us the first reaction is to reach for our phones and check what time it is and possibly check in on one of the many social media apps we have. This can quickly become a spiral into hours of surfing on your phone, with sleep far in the distance.

So, how should you keep the screens from messing with your sleep?

The easiest thing you can do is stop using any sort of screen about an hour before bedtime. Instead, read a book or magazine. While it is very tempting to keep using your phone right up until the time your head hits the pillow, it is best to stop use and give you brain a chance to acclimate to the light and then it will tell your body it is time to go to sleep.

Another great strategy for stopping electronics and screens from messing with your sleep is to ban them from the bedroom completely. This way you will not be tempted to check your phone when you cannot sleep, and any notifications that come in overnight are not going to disrupt your sleep cycle. While this may not be possible for some, like if you use your phone as your primary alarm clock, the best thing to do in that case is turn your phone on silent or do not disturb mode. 

If you know you cannot keep your phone out of the bedroom or are unable to break the habit of using it right before bed, there are a lot of apps and plugins available so that the light your screen is omitting is non-blue light. On one of the recent iPhone updates, they added a feature called night shift. This feature automatically shifts the light coming from your screen from blue to red, automatically from sunset to sunrise or you can create your own custom schedule.

If you tend to use your computer a lot at night, downloading an app like f.lux is a good idea to add to your computer. F.lux adjusts the light your computer omits to the light in the room around it (depending on what kind of lighting you have) and according to the time of day.
Keeping your phone, computer, and tablet turned off an hour before bed is an easy way to make sure that your body is picking up the right signals about when to be awake and when to fall asleep. In addition, sleeping with your phone either in another room or out of reach from your bed will help you sleep restfully.



1. Publications, Harvard Health. "Blue Light Has a Dark Side - Harvard Health." Harvard Health Publications - Harvard Medical School. Harvard University, n.d. Web.

2. "What Is REM Sleep?" National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web.

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