Young woman using phone at night, a potential contributor to sleep loss.


Hit snooze on screen time at bedtime

You just have to check one more work email. Your social media notification pings. You've just downloaded that great book on your e-reader. Work is over, so it's time to catch up on the new season of your favorite show. 

Screen temptation is everywhere, especially at bedtime. While screens may be necessary for work and enjoyable for evening entertainment, devices may also be disrupting your sleep. Read on to learn why screens may be preventing you from getting life-saving rest and ways to improve your shut-eye.

How do screens affect sleep?

Screens before bed affect your sleep in three major ways: 

  • First, they're a light source. The brain knows when it's daytime and nighttime based on how dark it is. A screen disrupts this natural way the brain operates.
  • Second, screens are a distraction for preventing good sleep. To go to sleep, the brain needs to unwind and stop thinking about things. But if you're thinking about whatever is on your screen, even if it's something pleasant, like reading a book, it's not helping you get to sleep.
  • Finally, devices can be a source of anxiety for some people. For example, if you're viewing work emails right before you go to sleep, you may become worried thinking about work, leading to trouble turning off your brain when you're trying to go to sleep. You keep having those thoughts. It's a regular story with insomnia. The thinkers, planners and doers especially have a tendency to worry and think at nighttime.  

The serious effects of sleep loss

The trend can have both short- and long-term health consequences. Most people who come and see me have experienced the short-term effects of not getting enough sleep already. They're depressed, may have some memory issues, an inability to focus and concentrate, and may not feel as well in general. The risk of motor vehicle and household accidents rises as well with less sleep. 

The long-term risks are even more serious. Research shows that less sleep may increase the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, diabetes, cancer and more. People who sleep fewer than six hours or more than 10 on a regular basis don't live as long as those who sleep for the recommended seven to nine hours.   

Tips for a screen-free slumber

  • Adults, especially parents of children: remove all screens from your children's bedroom. Children with screens in their bedrooms sleep 40 minutes less on average than those without a screen in their bedroom.  It's also a good idea to be a model for your children, and do the same for yourself.
  • If you have trouble sleeping at night, turn off all bright light sources two hours before you go to bed.
  • Screen duration impacts your ability to snooze more than screen brightness. Also, blue-hued lights are more alerting to the brain than yellow-hued lights. 
  • If you've had trouble sleeping for more than one week, visit a sleep expert.

Recognize that using screens is a health behavior.


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