How Does Screen Time Affect Your Sleep?
It’s a scenario most people can relate to. You jump into bed and decide to have a quick scroll through your phone before sleep. The next thing you know, an hour has passed and you’re still wide awake with phone in hand and no idea where time has gone.
While most of us are aware that late-night scrolling isn’t a good idea, how many of us truly understand the ways it can impact our sleep health? And what can we do to curb this habit? Dr Moira Junge, CEO of the Sleep Health Foundation, sat down with us to talk further.
“While we don’t yet know the full extent of it, there is undoubted evidence that if you’re using your phone too much in the evening, then you’re at risk of getting less sleep,” explains Dr Junge. “You’re basically ‘buying’ into your sleep time. In addition to that, most devices give off blue light which can suppress melatonin, the hormone that your brain produces to regulate sleep / wake cycles. Intense phone use also means you’re more likely to miss your brain’s tired signs.”
The bigger challenge of sleep
And there’s good reason to be concerned about this. Sleep Health Foundation literature reveals that 40% of Australians report inadequate sleep on any given night, falling short on both quality and quantity, and 60% report at least one symptom of a sleep disorder. While multiple factors can impact sleep, electronic device use is a key one.
Dr Junge explains, “We know that technology use can impact negatively on sleep, but tech use is so ingrained in our society that we need to be realistic about how people manage it. This is particularly true for young people, who have grown up around technology and for whom it is pivotal in fostering a sense of belonging and connecting.”
How to mitigate the impact of devices
Fortunately, there are some simple ways to counteract many of these challenges. You can activate night-time mode on your phone or wear blue light blocking glasses to minimise the impact of blue light from phones, tablets, computers and other electronic devices.
The importance of good sleep habits
“At the Sleep Health Foundation, we encourage a one-hour buffer between putting down your phone and getting into bed,” says Dr Junge. “This gives your brain enough time to switch off and for the body to start melatonin production. We also strongly recommend a consistent, realistic sleep routine, which is key to achieving good quality sleep.”
Alongside technology use before bed, things like light, temperature, stress, stimulants such as caffeine, and drugs also have an impact on sleep. For example, the natural flow of melatonin is disrupted by light and warmth, so the body needs cool, dark conditions for melatonin to be secreted. Considered together, these factors are key for creating an environment suitable for healthy sleep.
Sleep and our society
It’s also important to look at the bigger picture of how society views sleep, according to Dr Junge. “The impacts of screen time are compounded by the fact that we live in a society which places little value on sleep. In fact, people seem to wear getting by on ‘not much sleep’ as a badge of honour, as if it proves you’re a harder worker. In reality, sleep should be held in the same esteem as diet and fitness. If people go on a health kick, very rarely do they consider sleep as part of their personal health strategy, yet it’s a core component of any health plan.”
Any final thoughts from Dr Junge? “When all is said and done, most people can try to do better with their evening phone use. We encourage you to reduce your time online and stay off your devices when you’re in bed. You’ll feel much better, with improved energy, more clarity, better relationships, increased productivity, and your immune system could potentially benefit.”
- Amy C Reynolds, Sarah L Appleton, Tiffany K Gill, Robert J Adams. Chronic Insomnia Disorder in Australia A Report to the Sleep Health Foundation. https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/pdfs/Special_Reports/SHF_Insomnia_Report_2019_Final_SHFlogo.pdf Published July 2019
- Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care. Australian Government response to the Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport’s report Bedtime Reading: Inquiry into Sleep Awareness in Australia. https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/bedtime-reading-inquiry-into-sleep-health-awareness-in-australia?language=en Published 4 August 2023