What’s keeping us awake at night

Sleep may not be affected by blue lights, but phones are still an issue.

Jun 18, 2024, updated Jun 18, 2024
Your phone might be impacting your sleep, but it might not be due to the blue light. Photo: Shane on Unsplash

Your phone might be impacting your sleep, but it might not be due to the blue light. Photo: Shane on Unsplash

Research has found that staring at a phone screen for hours before bed might not be as bad as once thought, as the blue light may not be the main reason sleep is bad.

For years researchers thought the blue light radiating through a device’s screen was messing with the user’s circadian rhythm and therefore messing with their sleep.

But the paper acknowledges technological advances have coincided with decreasing sleep duration.

Although people might believe they are connected, people should really be reflecting on their routine before bedtime.

The report, recently published in Sleep Medicine Review, investigated whether screens were actually affecting people’s sleep as much as we previously thought.

“If we stand back and look at all of the factors that can be harmful to our sleep, screens are over-rated,” clinical psychologist and the paper’s co-author, Michael Gradisar told The Independent.

“There’s no evidence from 11 studies conducted across the world that screen light in the hour before bed makes it harder to fall asleep.”

The many different factors impacting sleep

The paper acknowledged that exposure to light before bed can delay circadian timing, however, it also explored other factors that may be affecting sleep.

The content being viewed before bed was one theory.

If someone watches something that elevates their heart rate, then they might find it more difficult to fall asleep.

Gradisar and his co-authors pointed to a study that had people watch different types of TV shows before trying to sleep.

Before bed, participants watched three or four episodes of either a neutral TV series, or a suspenseful TV series, with or without a cliffhanger.

“In the time between lights out and sleep onset, pre-sleep arousal was significantly higher in the cliffhanger group, but not the suspense-only group,” the paper explained.

“Self-reported stress was also higher after watching a suspenseful series, yet surprisingly, the suspenseful cliffhanger group had the shortest sleep latency (mean difference of 5-min). No differences in night wakings or sleep duration were observed.”

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The study also said: “Features such as ‘autoplay’ and the constant stream of content intend to make it difficult to use these apps in a structured way, and therefore may result in people remaining engaged with their screens for unintended periods of time.”

The fear of missing out, or “FoMO”, can also impact one’s sleep, as can procrastination, which can lead to “doom scrolling”.

Also, plenty of people sleep with their phones in their bedrooms and unless “Do Not Disturb” is turned on, then chances are the phone is going off with notifications throughout the night, impacting sleep quality.

Tips for better sleep

Following the paper’s conclusion, the authors had a few points to share for a better sleep.

Technology won’t be going anywhere, so they suggest minimising harm.

Technology can be in the bedroom, but phones should be on “Do Not Disturb”, or something similar, and should not be used after a set “bed time”.

Instead, “less-engaging activities”, such as watching TV, should be done just before bed.

People also need to be aware that technology is “programmed” to keep users engaged.

“Awareness of technology features is the first step to take control and initiate behavioural changes,” the authors wrote.


Topics: sleep
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