If you’ve wondered if using your cell phone before sleep can impact sleep quality, researchers have some insights.
The link between sleep quality and using your phone before bedtime.
A study published in 2019 examined smartphone usage at bedtime by 435 people in Saudi Arabia. The study found that “employees who use their smartphones more at bedtime have more risk of being poor sleepers.” Specifically, the risk of sleep quality problems appears to increase with increased smartphone usage at bedtime. The researchers noted that those who “spent 46 to 60 minutes had only 2.6-fold risk for the poor quality; participants who spent more than 60 minutes had a 7.4-fold risk of being poor quality sleepers.”
How using your phone before bedtime can affect you.
There are several reasons using your phone before bed can impact you. The Cleveland Clinic highlights several effects of checking your phone.
Keeping your mind engaged psychologically.
Instead of relaxing and drifting off to sleep, using your phone before sleep can trigger worries and other thoughts. For example, you might see a late-night email from a customer asking a question and then debate whether or not to answer the message immediately. If your bedtime routine includes checking your phone, it may be more challenging to relax and fall asleep peacefully.
Exposure to blue light.
Melissa Barnett, the principal optometrist at the UC Davis Eye Center, points out that continued exposure to blue light can cause problems for your vision. Dr. Barnett notes that there are multiple sources of blue light, including sunlight. Artificial blue light sources include LEDs, flat-screen televisions, computer monitors and smartphones.
Exposure to blue light at night before bedtime can cause sleep problems as blue light impacts melatonin production. Seeing artificial blue light at night may trick your body and brain into thinking the day is continuing and there is no need to prepare for sleep. Melatonin is significant because it helps your body get ready for sleep. Melatonin levels naturally increase about two hours before sleep. Using a phone, tablet, computer, or other screens can counteract melatonin’s effects, ultimately making it more difficult to fall asleep.
Delays to REM sleep.
Using a cell phone before going to bed can have a negative impact on REM sleep. To illustrate why reduced REM sleep is a problem, consider how this type of sleep is beneficial. REM sleep is essential to consolidate memories. An article published in 2016 also found that REM sleep may heighten creativity. Therefore, reduced REM sleep could cause problems with memory and learning.
Ways to change your bedtime routine for better sleep.
Now that you understand how cell phone use before bed can cause sleep problems, let’s look at ways to improve your bedtime routine. If you have ongoing concerns about poor sleep or not getting enough quality sleep, ask your doctor for advice tailored to your specific situation.
Avoid screen time one hour before bedtime.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, “The hour before bed should consist of relaxing activities that don’t involve devices with screens.” For those who want to use an e-reader in bed anyway, look for devices that can reduce blue light exposure. For example, the Kindle Oasis lets you switch to “warm light” which reduces the amount of blue light emitted by the device. Likewise, the Kobo Libra H2O has a feature to reduce blue light.
You can also use your phone to help you remember to start your bedtime routine. iPhone users can set up a sleep goal and schedule to give themselves a gentle reminder to put their phones away and get to sleep. Android phone users can set a bedtime reminder using the clock app as well. If you turn off your cell phone before bed, you can always rely on a home phone for emergency calls.
Set a bedtime routine schedule.
Setting a bedtime routine schedule can help. If you decide to get eight hours of sleep and wake up at 6 a.m., you would need to be asleep by 10 p.m. However, most people find it takes some time—up to 20 minutes, according to the National Sleep Foundation—to fall asleep. Given this reality, consider going to bed by 9:30 p.m. or earlier to give yourself time to relax.
Use an alarm clock that is not your phone.
Sometimes, people use their cell phones before bedtime to set their wake-up time on an alarm clock app. Fortunately, there are two simple alternatives. You can pre-set recurring alarm times for the week. Or, go old school and use a physical alarm clock. Amazon.com has more than 2,000 alarm clock options. You don’t have to spend a lot on an alarm clock, either. According to the Wirecutter, an affordable digital alarm clock like the DreamSky Compact Digital Alarm Clock is available for less than $30 as of May 2021.
Change your device’s settings to reduce blue light at night.
Some devices have settings to reduce exposure to blue light. For example, the iPhone and iPad have a Night Shift mode that can reduce blue light, while Android devices have a blue light filter mode. These settings can help to reduce exposure to blue light.
However, it is vital to understand the limitations of such settings. The Cleveland Clinic points out that using a phone can keep your mind engaged psychologically. If you happen to check your phone and see an upsetting message on social media, a changed light setting will not alter the content of the message.
In addition, the National Sleep Foundation points out that sleeping in a dark room is preferable and that you should “identify all sources of light, such as digital clocks, charging stations, and other electronics […and] cover up these lights or store them outside the bedroom.”
Experiment with different bedtime routines.
Be patient with yourself. It may take a few attempts to find an effective bedtime routine. Take sleep duration, for example. Adults usually require seven to nine hours of sleep to feel rested. If you are at the top end of that range, adjust your bedtime routine and phone usage to get more sleep. Many Americans get less than seven hours of sleep per night, so simply increasing the amount of sleep you get could be an excellent first step.
In addition to the quantity of sleep, there are some specific bedtime habits you may want to try. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests avoiding large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime. Therefore, you might experiment with changing your diet to improve your sleep. In addition, being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily. You might also find it helpful to go through a non-digital nighttime routine like a long relaxing bath, meditation, brushing your teeth or stretching. If you want to read a book before bed, experiment with different options like reading a print book or using an e-reader device.
Encourage your family to limit screen use before bedtime.
You might be wondering how to encourage healthy phone habits for your family. There are a few different ways you can approach this solution. For example, parents with younger children might link two habits together for their children. For instance, tell your children that evening story time starts after everyone puts away their devices to charge in the living room. Author James Clear refers to this process of linking together two habits as habit stacking.
There are also some technical ways you can discourage screen time at night for your entire household including older family members. For example, consider turning off cellular data at night with your cellular provider. Further, some Wi-Fi routers let you limit internet usage by time. Since the technical steps involved in controlling Wi-Fi vary, contact your internet service provider for additional help if you want to limit internet access.
Another approach is to turn off all mobile phones two hours before bed and inform family, friends and employers to call your home phone in case of emergency. If you got rid of your home phone because you were tired of paying high service bills, give internet home phone service a try. Ooma has a basic plan with crystal-clear calling for free, aside from applicable monthly taxes and fees. You’ll need tobuy an Ooma base station for about $100 to connect to your internet. Use the calculator to find out the monthly taxes and fees where you live.
Your next step to better sleep.
If you want to improve your sleep, changing when and how you use digital devices at night can help. Experiment with some of the tips like using a traditional alarm clock, charging devices outside the bedroom and limiting internet access at night. If you have ongoing sleep problems, consult a doctor for advice.