There are 3 main ways that technology impacts our sleep:
- The light from the devices suppresses melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone.
- The devices are mentally and physically stimulating.
- When we use our devices in bed, we create a learned association as the bed being a place of study or work or socializing – NOT a place for sleeping.
Dr. Charles Czeisler, Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine, explains that electric light, especially the energy efficient LED lights in most of our electronic devices, signal to the brain that it is daytime. When we use these devices before getting ready for bed, they suppress the nightly release of melatonin in the brain and shift our circadian clock. Melatonin is the hormone that helps you fall asleep and stay asleep. Our internal circadian rhythm regulates the timing of periods of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day. (NATURE 2013)
“We have biologically shifted ourselves so we can’t fall asleep earlier,” said Dr. Czeisler. “The amazing thing is that we are still trying to get up with the chickens.” (2014, Gale, Bloomberg)
Aside from the physiological impact of using electronic devices in the evening, the extra stimulation from using these devices also plays a role. Engaging the brain with information that’s exciting can trigger emotional and hormonal responses, including release of adrenalin. (2014 Gale, Bloomberg)
According to the National Sleep Foundation, it is best to take work materials, computers and televisions out of the sleeping environment. Use your bed only for sleep and sex to strengthen the association between bed and sleep. If you associate a particular activity or item with anxiety about sleeping, omit it from your bedtime routine.
“So when a teenager is playing a violent video game regularly in his bedroom, his brain starts to see the room as an entertainment zone rather than a quiet, sleepy environment,” said Dalhousie psychologist Jennifer Vriend, the lead researcher in a study on technology and sleep lost. Having these devices in the bedroom trains the brain to see the room as a place for entertainment instead of a place for calmness and rest.
Czeisler, CA. (2013, May 23) Casting light on sleep deficiency. Nature, Vol 497:S13.
Gale, J. (2014, Jan. 7) Bedroom-invading smartphones jumble body’s sleep rhythms. Bloomberg.
National Sleep Foundation. (2011, March 7).
RedOrbit Staff. (2013, Nov. 15) Technology in the Bedroom disrupts Teens’ Sleep. ReOrbit.