Is Your Smartphone Keeping You Up at Night? Why You Need to Disconnect From Your Phone at Bedtime

If you're having trouble falling asleep at night, it could be your phone that's keeping you awake.

“Right now we take better care of our smartphones than we take care of ourselves. I bet everyone here knows how much battery remains in their phones right now.”

-Arianna Huffington, Creator of The Huffington Post


We live in an age where life and technology are deeply intertwined. For many of us, our mobile phones are always within arm’s reach and being connected to the internet and accessible 24/7 is the new 'norm'. Our bedtime routine consists of surfing the internet, responding to text messages or emails, checking in on social media, listening to music and playing games all from our phones.  However, growing research has found that this modern day habit may be a major contributing factor in the rise of sleep disorders. If you're having trouble falling asleep at night, it could be your phone that's keeping you awake. Here's why you should disconnect from your phone at bedtime.

The endless interactivity of our phones is creating a pattern of dependency that is harmful to our sleep
How often do you find yourself spending hours on your phone at bedtime when you should be sleeping? Or compulsively reaching for your phone each time you get a notification instead of allowing yourself to drift off to sleep? Phones are designed to be interactive and prompt an immediate response from users, and activities are often 'endless'. For instance, you can surf the web for hours with one website link leading you to another, social media applications feature visual feeds that enable users to 'scroll down' indefinitely. Researchers in Norway found that that this type of boundless interactivity may have alerting effects on our brain due to the blue light emanating from electronic screens. High availability of the device also makes it easy to have it within an arm's reach, making it easier for us to compulsively check our phones, encouraging a pattern of dependence.

In 2012, researchers in Norway examined the effect of electronic devices on the sleep patterns of nearly, 10,000 adolescents aged 16-19. They found that phone use at bedtime significantly increased sleep deficiency. Another study by California State University, monitored the effects of technology on the sleep patterns of college students. Findings echoed the results in Norway with researchers determining a direct link between increased daily smartphone usage at bedtime and sleep problems caused by anxiety/dependence on a device.

The screen on our phones emits blue light which suppresses melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel sleepy
Melatonin is a sleep-promoting hormone in humans that signals to our body clock that it's time to sleep. Exposure to light resets and disrupts melatonin production in our pineal gland. In 2013, researchers from the Lighting Research Center in the US found that "exposure to light from self-luminous displays may be linked to increased risk for sleep disorders because these devices emit optical radiation at short wavelengths, close to the peak sensitivity of melatonin suppression." 2011 findings published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that chronic exposure to artificial light at night "disrupts melatonin signalling and could therefore potentially impact sleep, thermoregulation, blood pressure, and glucose homeostasis." Blue light that emanates from our phone screens has an alerting effect on our brains and suppresses melatonin production which is essential in maintaining a healthy internal body clock and sleep pattern.

As we become increasingly dependent on technology for our daily tasks, our lifestyles continue to be shaped by our phones and how we consume information. This shift in our lifestyle and behaviour becomes particularly concerning during bedtime when we need to be minimising visual and mental stimulation and preparing ourselves for rest and rejuvenation. Read about how you can start sleeping clean here.

Tips on how to minimise phone use at bedtime:

  1. Make your bedroom a digital technology free zone or leave your phone in another room at bedtime.
  2. If your phone also doubles as an alarm clock, consider buying an analogue clock.
  3. If being away from your phone at night is not an option, turn on its built-in night mode or switch it off completely.
  4. Limit the amount of time you spend on your phone before bed (e.g. no phone use after 9pm).