How to sleep better? Set aside your tech gadgets before going to bed

The Four Percent



You should probably be using your phone less. Buzz60’s Tony Spitz has the details.

While we’re supposed to go to bed tired and wake up energized, ever notice it’s often the other way around? Instead, you are wide awake when you lie down at night and wake up exhausted.

Sound familiar? Late-night technology may be to blame. And it could be harming your personal and professional life.

“There is certainly a lot of technology around us in this modern era, and we’re bringing it to the bedroom, which can have a lot of negative consequences on a good quality sleep,” says sleep disorders specialist Dr. Harneet Walia from the Cleveland Clinic, a nonprofit academic medical center in Cleveland, Ohio.

There are some reasons you shouldn’t bring your tech to bed, says Walia, who specializes in complex sleep disorders. And you can learn to manage technology to prepare yourself for better sleep.

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Night light

To fall asleep, your body needs an increase in levels of melatonin. Problem is, a backlit device decreases melatonin production.

“Smartphones and tablets can emit what we call a blue light, which can suppress these natural hormones, known to produce and promote sleep, and also known to have some circadian rhythm effects,” said Walia in a telephone interview with USA TODAY.

Dr. Harneet Walia: Dr. Walia is a sleep disorders specialist from the Cleveland Clinic, a nonprofit academic medical center in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo: Cleveland Clinic)

Circadian rhythms act as an internal clock, keeping us on a daily cycle of sleeping, waking, eating and other behaviors. But circadian rhythms can respond to changes in light and darkness in one’s environment.

“So, when the blue light is emitted and melatonin is suppressed, as a result, we’re not able to get to sleep at a proper time, neither are we able to get a good quality sleep,” Walia said.

To combat those effects, Apple added a Night Shift feature, which uses the iPhone or iPad clock and geolocation to automatically adjust the colors in the display to the warmer end of the spectrum after dark. (Or you can manually enable it.)

In the morning, the device returns the display to its regular settings after, hopefully, helping you get a better night’s sleep. Free apps for the Android operating system work in a similar way.

Even though many phones, tablets and e-readers today have an “anti-blue light,” “blue light filter,” or Night Shift option, data suggests these features may not be that effective in reducing blue light and related negative effects, Walia says.

Even a TV in the bedroom might also be affecting the quality of sleep – as any light that comes through the eyelids could decrease melatonin – so Walia recommends not watching television or use any other tech at least 30 minutes before you close your eyes.

Digital distractions

Whether you bring your phone, tablet or laptop to bed for work or for relaxation, you are not giving yourself a break from being connected.

With devices handy, you might be tempted to engage in a group chat going on. Or perhaps you would want to see what people on social media are saying about a photo you posted. Or you could hear the “ping” of an email after you’ve closed your eyes and reach for your device to take a look.

“Of course, technology can keep our mind active and engaged when we have our phone next to us,” Walia said. “It can stimulate the brain, keep it active, as we always feel like we need to be connected, logged on – this not good for sleep.”

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And what if you read something in the news (or on your social feed) that upsets you? This could also affect the length and quality of your sleep.

Even if you put your device on airplane mode, you might still be tempted if it’s nearby. It’s recommended to leave the gadgets in another room.

On a related note, while there is no conclusive link between sleeping with technology and clinical health problems – caused by the radiation emitted by Wi-Fi and cellular devices – many medical professionals suggest to err on the side of caution and leave tech outside of the bedroom. We simply don’t know about the long-term effects just yet.

On the flip side … can tech help you?

If you’re reading this and thinking, “I don’t have these issues in bringing my phone to bed,” then at least consider a number of apps designed to help you relax, such as mediation walkthroughs, relaxing “soundscapes” like crashing waves, jet lag apps, or podcasts and audiobooks you can listen to with the lights out.

(Personally, I’m a fan of “old-time radio” plays – popularized in the 1940s and 1950s – now free to download and listen to on your devices.)

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And then there’s wearable bands and smartwatches that not only help track fitness, but also overnight patterns. So the technology helps with your exercise and when you wear an activity tracker while sleeping, the sensors can detect if you woke up during the night, when, and for how long. The information can be seen in chart and graph form, on an app or website, which can be shared with a physician for analysis.

And, so as not to disrupt the sleep of your spouse or partner, many fitness bands and smartwatches can use vibrations, rather than sound, to wake up the wearer.

Follow Marc on Twitter: @marc_saltzman. Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out podcast at

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