How screen time affects your sleep

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Outsmart your smartphone for longer, deeper sleep.

With the number of connected devices in the average household expected to triple by 2020, we are more connected than ever.

The downside is that too much screen time may be having a negative impact on sleep.

We asked Dr Sarah Loughran, from the University of Wollongong how to manage our screen time to get a good night’s sleep.

How can screen use affect our wellbeing?

One of the other main issues with screens is the potential impact they can have on sleep.

Not getting enough sleep has widespread ramifications on your alertness, mood, productivity, mental and cognitive functioning, and upon your health and wellbeing more generally.

Screen use can impact on sleep in a number of different ways, including:
  • Later bedtimes – engaging with electronic media can lead to a delay in bedtimes, which results in less time for sleep
  • Content – exposing the brain to exciting or provocative information before bed may trigger emotional and hormonal responses (such as the release of adrenalin), which can impact your ability to fall and/or stay asleep
  • Light emissions – looking at bright light at night can disrupt the body’s natural occurring circadian rhythm, which increases alertness and suppresses the release of the hormone melatonin, which is important for maintaining and regulating our sleep-wake cycle
  • Cutting into time that could be spent on heath-boosting activities – excess screen time may be affecting sleep by reducing the time spent doing other activities which are known to be beneficial for our wellbeing, such as exercise
WATCH: This is what happens to your brain and body when you check your phone before bed

Can screen-time impact on our mood as well?

There is the possibility that the use of screens could lead to increased sedentary behaviour, which can negatively impact your mood and mental state.

What are some ways we can better manage our screen-time and help save our sleep?

  • Ensure screen technologies do not reduce your time spent doing other beneficial activities, like getting out and being active
  • Avoid using screens in the evening time immediately prior to bed, as exposure to bright light (as well as to exciting or provocative content) can impact sleep, which can again have wide ranging impacts on health and wellbeing
  • Keep devices out of the bedroom – the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends only using the bedroom for sleep and sex!
  • Resist the temptation to check emails and social media feeds in the middle of the night, as the light and content could again impact your ability to fall back to sleep
Dr. Sarah Loughran is a research fellow at the Australian Centre for Electromagnetic Bioeffects Research at the University of Wollongong.