News & Views

The negative effect of electronic devices on sleep

By Zach Pearl, PhD Staff


Electronic devices such as smart phones, video game consoles, television, audio players, computers and tablets have become an integral part of our lives where more than half of adolescents from technologically advanced countries report using electronic media on most evenings and during the last hour before they go to bed 1 . Moreover, for more than two thirds of these teens, the last activity of the day was related to electronic media.
There are many evidences pointing out that this extended usage at late hours has negative affect on sleep 2 . Lack of sleep and nightmares have been linked to watching TV 3 and sleep disturbances have been linked to the presence of a TV set in the bedroom 4 and to computer game play 5 .

Media consumption may directly affect sleep due to its time consuming nature, or indirectly by increasing psychophysiological arousal caused by stimulating content 6 . It has been shown that excessive TV viewing and computer use are linked to higher levels of depression and anxiety in children which can also worsen sleep 7 . Another possibility is that evening exposure to bright light, inherent in most electronic media devices6, delays the circadian rhythm (biological clock)8 8 , suppresses melatonin levels and increases alertness 9 10 . It was shown that the light emission and electromagnetic radiation from the screens suppresses melatonin production and secretion in the evening, reducing signs of sleepiness 11 12 . Electronic media may also impair sleep, by causing physical discomfort, such as muscular pain and headache, which can be resulted due to extensive media use (e.g. computer games).

Here are a few helpful strategies for reducing the negative effects of electronic devices and improving sleep:

  • Dimming the brightness on your devices and making sure you are keeping them at least 35 cm from your face will reduce the effect of light and the disruption to your normal melatonin production
  • In the hours before bedtime, disengage from your digital devices, start reducing bright lights and turning off the televisions. This should help you disengage from daily stressors and potential anxiety
  • Turn phones to silent or airplane mode at night to avoid disturbances

These actions should result in an improvement in quality of sleep while also reducing the difficulty of falling asleep and decreasing nighttime awakenings. Moreover, morning awakening will be easier. Reducing electronics’ use at night may take a little getting used to, but the benefits of a better sleep and a healthier body and mind are well worth it.

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