By Jane Bianchi | Martha Stewart | December 4, 2018
Blue light and buzzing and brain stimulation, oh my.
Can you remember the last time you DIDN’T scroll through your phone as the last thing you did before going to bed? While it may feel like you’re having quiet time in bed, you’re actually not winding yourself down. Smartphones (as well as tablets, laptops, and TVs) can wreak havoc on your precious sleep in a number of ways. Even just keeping one on your nightstand can create problems. But don’t stress! There are some quick fixes that can lessen your cell’s ability to mess with your zzz’s. Take control of your devices—tonight.
WHY ELECTRONIC DEVICES—ESPECIALLY PHONES—ARE NO-NO’S IN THE BEDROOM
Blue light suppresses your sleep hormones. The type of light that smartphones, tablets, laptops, and TVs emit is called “blue light,” and it’s particularly stimulating. It suppresses the release of melatonin, a hormone that naturally increases in your brain as bedtime approaches and you get tired. In other words, blue light makes it harder for you to fall (and stay) asleep.
Your face is so close to the screen. When it comes to blue light, here’s why smartphones can be more harmful than, say, a wall-mounted TV. “You tend to get higher levels of exposure because you’re closer,” says Joseph Ojile, M.D., the founder, chief executive officer and medical director of the Clayton Sleep Institute, a clinical professor of internal medicine for Saint Louis University School of Medicine, and a member of the board of directors of the National Sleep Foundation.
Notifications may wake you — and keep waking you. With smartphones, it’s not just the light that keeps you up—it’s also the endless notifications (ding! buzz!). If a late-night or early-morning phone call, text, email, Facebook message, or Instagram “like” wakes you up, it can be difficult to resist the temptation to check your phone. And this begins an unhealthy cycle that disrupts your regular body clock or circadian rhythm. “Once you wake up a few times at night to check your texts, emails, or Instagram, your brain quickly learns, ‘well, that’s what time I’m supposed to do that.’ Now we’re off to the races. You wake up at 1:00 a.m., 3:00 a.m.,” Dr. Ojile says.
You’re likely engaging your brain. Another issue is that smartphones tend to require not just your attention but your participation. Often, you’re not just watching or reading something passively—you’re having a text conversation, getting into a heated social media debate, liking photos on Instagram, or stressing over an email. This means your brain is firing on all cylinders, which may keep you awake.
The passive content that you choose may still be stimulating. Consider what you’re consuming and whether it’s making your pulse race, since that’s the last thing you need when you’re trying to relax. “Don’t jump into bed watching a very upsetting TV show or a very exciting TV show or reading a book that has your heart pounding—like, what’s going to happen at the end?” says Dr. Ojile. “You need to watch something rather dull. Don’t get up and watch Rambo.”
HOW TO DETACH YOURSELF FROM YOUR PHONE AT NIGHT
Move it. The best solution (and the hardest one to execute) is simply to charge your phone overnight in another room—ideally starting an hour before bedtime. We know. It sounds impossible. But try it for a week and see if you sleep better. Does your phone currently serve as your alarm clock? You can always buy a cheap alarm clock, or splurge on a fancy clock radio if you prefer to be woken up by music. If you just can’t give up your phone, or the 24/7 nature of your job just won’t allow you to detach, at the very least consider some of the following tips.
Adjust the lighting. Apple, Amazon, and Android devices all allow you to make nighttime lighting changes to most models, so look in your settings. On an iPhone, for instance, go to “Display & Brightness” and schedule “Night Shift” to come on during certain hours (like 10pm to 7am), which reduces the amount of blue light and gives the screen an amber tone.
Change the noise settings. You can tweak your notifications so you don’t ever get audio alerts for certain things (like emails, texts, Facebook messages, calendar reminders, etc.). You can also turn off sound and vibrate before you go to bed, or see if your phone allows you to select certain settings at nighttime, Dr. Ojile says. On an iPhone, play around with the Do Not Disturb feature, which can silence the phone during particular hours and allow calls from only certain people that you select (like those in your immediate family or people you’d consider emergency contacts).
Create new bedtime habits. If you like watching TV or movies at night, don’t watch on your phone or tablet while you’re lying in bed at 10:00 p.m. or 11:00 p.m. Try turning it on a TV earlier in the evening, and watch it from a distance, Dr. Ojile recommends. Then dim the lights in the house, go read a calming book, take a warm bath, meditate, stretch, write in a journal, or try these relaxation techniques before bed.
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