News & Views

The negative effect of electronic devices on sleep

By Zach Pearl, PhD Staff

In the last decade, there was a sharp increase in the availability and usage of electronic devices such as smart phones, video game consoles, television, audio players, computers and tablets. Apart from their entertainment aspects, electronic devices play an important part in our social lives. They 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 during the last hour before they go to bed1. Moreover, for more than two thirds of these teens, the last activity of the day was related to electronic media. Unfortunately, there are many evidences pointing out that this extended usage at late hours has negative affect on sleep2. Lack of sleep and nightmares have been linked to watching TV3 and sleep disturbances have been linked to the presence of a TV set in the bedroom4 and to computer game play5.

Parallel with the increased use of electronic devices, more teenagers suffer from poorer sleep6. Recent data on adolescent sleep shows that it is characterized, on average, by late bedtime, longer time to fall asleep and short sleep duration of approximately 6.5 hours on weekdays, contributing to daily sleep deficiency of about 2 hours7.

How Use of Electronic Devices Affects Sleep Media consumption may directly affect sleep due to its time consuming nature, or indirectly by increasing psychophysiological arousal caused by stimulating content8. 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 sleep9. Another possibility is that evening exposure to bright light, inherent in most electronic media devices8, delays the circadian rhythm (biological clock)10, suppresses melatonin levels and increases alertness11 12. It was shown that the light emission and electromagnetic radiation from the screens suppresses melatonin production and secretion in the evening, reducing signs of sleepiness13 14. 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).

Sleep Tips for Reducing Devices’ Effects 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 14 inches 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 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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