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How Electronics Are Sabotaging Your Sleep


There’s nothing more relaxing than getting into bed after a long day, but most of the time, we either scroll through Twitter or watch episodes on Netflix until we manage to pass out. While this may seem like no big deal, it’s actually really bad for us! Not only is our sleep being affected, but other parts of our health as well. With the help of a few doctors, we’re here to tell you why it’s time to put down your phone and turn off your laptop before bed.

Why you need to stop

1. Your electronics are convincing you it’s earlier than it really is

Even if the lights are out, cell phones and other forms of technology can actually fool your brain into forgetting it’s nighttime. Dr. Kent Smith, a sleep dentist from Dallas, Texas says that these devices emit a blue light that tells our suprachiasmatic nucleus (basically, your internal clock) that it’s 2:00 in the afternoon, and not 2:00 in the morning. “When our brains are fooled, they do not secrete melatonin, which is what helps us initiate sleep,” Dr. Smith says. As humans, we actually produce melatonin, a hormone, on our own; however, there are certainly things that can prevent this production, like lying with our phones in bed at night.

If you’re looking for another way to keep your phone in bed and still get some sleep, turning the brightness down isn’t solution enough. While it does help, Dr. Daniel Rifkin, the founder of Sleep Medicine Centers of Western New York, says, “Believe it or not, the blue wavelength remains present. This is what we call a ‘dose response,’ where the lower the lux of light has a lesser effect but there is still some effect!”

2. Sleep debt has side effects

Delaying sleep in itself is unhealthy, but other problems are likely to occur as a result.

“Sleep debt has been linked to weight gain, memory loss and mood disorders, just to name a few unsavory situations most [students] would like to avoid,” Dr. Smith says.

Additionally, if you continue to stay up super late as a result of your electronics, you’re more likely to develop onset insomnia and ultimately sleep deprivation. Olivia, a junior at the University of Tennessee, started having problems after one too many restless nights.

“My sophomore year, I would put off my homework up until around 9 p.m.,” Olivia admits. “I would usually get done around midnight, and even though I was tired, I laid in bed scrolling through Tumblr or watching Netflix on my laptop until I passed out.”

Olivia says that she usually fell asleep around 3 or 4 a.m., only to get up just a few hours later for her morning classes. “In the beginning, I was fine,” she says. “I’d just get a huge coffee the next day or something. But after a while, I started staying up all night.” After an entire sleepless few days, Olivia went to her family doctor and was put on pills for insomnia. Not wanting to be on them for the rest of her life, she used them just until she could develop a normal sleeping pattern again. “Now, I don’t bring my laptop to bed with me, and I plug my phone by my dresser across the room,” she says.

3. Even having your phone next to you can be dangerous

Before dozing off, we don’t even think to put our phones somewhere else besides in bed next to us. Not only does their mere presence tempt us to scroll through social media all night, but having it physically close to us is dangerous for our health. “Having your cell phone close to you during sleep has been shown in studies to delay deep sleep and create more headaches,” Dr. Smith says, “so I suggest leaving it as far from you as possible during sleep,” he says.” If you use your phone for an alarm, just turn up the volume so you’ll still hear it, and also be forced to get up when you need to!

How to stop

Although it may sound hard, your body needs time to wind down before it can sleep. Dr. Carl Bazil, the director of the Division of Comprehensive Epilepsy Center and Sleep Center and a clinical neurology professor at Columbia University, recommends 30 minutes to wind down and rid yourself of electronics, although he says that some people will need more. You don’t even have to lie in bed, according to Dr. Rifkin. “I like to tell patients to turn off all electronics… so they can have a ‘facilitation to sleep-onset time,’” he says. The following list consists of just some of the few things you can do before bed to relax!

  • Take a warm bath
  • Read something non-school or work related
  • Do some quick relaxation yoga
  • Listen to calming music
  • Write in a journal
  • Drink warm milk

It may be difficult to prioritize sleep, but for us collegiettes, it is SO important! So, plug in your phone and set it on a table or dresser nearby, turn off your laptop, shut off the TV and get those z’s! 

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