Of the 20 good sleep habits , one of the most important and easiest to follow is: Shut off all electronics at least 1 hour before sleep. This especially means cell phones, which nearly two-thirds of all people ages 18–64 have within reach while they’re in bed.1 Here are a few reasons why, and what you can do instead before bed.
How screens hurt your sleep
- Blue light. The light that emits from smartphones2 and e-reader tablets3 is known to significantly suppress your body’s production of melatonin, a key sleep-inducing hormone. Melatonin helps regulate our circadian cycle by making us tired when it’s time for us sleep. The presence of any light suppresses melatonin, but blue light most of all,4 causing us to doze off slower and lose sleep as a result.
- Stimulation. The fewer things we have on our minds at night, the faster we can fall asleep. But watching TV, playing games on your phone or scrolling through social media newsfeeds can stimulate your mind, keeping it alert and thinking rather than calming down for sleep.
- Stress. Hooked on Netflix? As relaxing as watching TV might seem, research shows that watching someone else’s stressful situation increases our own stress levels as well.5 And stress is one of the leading culprits for a poor night’s sleep.6
What can I do instead?
If we shut off all electronics an hour before sleep, chances are we’re still pretty alert and awake. So how do we occupy ourselves in a way that’s healthy for our sleep? Here are some ideas:
- Read a book. While we admit that some books have stressful plots, one study suggests that reading silently for just six minutes can lower stress by up to 68%, more than listening to music (61%), drinking a cup of tea (54%) or walking (42%).7
- Jot down your thoughts. If you’ve got a lot on your mind at night, the best thing to do is write them down. That way, your mind no longer has to remember them all, so it can relax and prepare for sleep.
- Take a shower/bath. On top of being quite relaxing, taking a shower or bath helps lower your body temperature when you get out, which can help you fall asleep faster.8
- Resist the urge to snack. It’s best to finish eating at least 2 hours before bedtime and avoid heavy nighttime meals. That way, most sugars and other stimulants have time to wear off and your body’s digestive system isn’t still actively breaking down your latest meal, which can certainly keep you awake.
How will I know it’s working?
The most obvious and immediate sign that you’re sleeping better will be the amount of energy and alertness you feel throughout the next day. There are also sleep trackers that can monitor your vital signs as well as room temperature and noise levels while you sleep to show how these factors affect your sleep.
- Time and Qualcomm. Where do you keep your phone while you sleep? 2012. Referenced in: Khazan O. How smartphones hurt sleep? The Atlantic. February 24, 2015. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/02/how-smartphones-are-ruining-our-sleep/385792/ (accessed April 7, 2015).
- Lanaj K, Johnson RE and Barnes CM. Beginning the workday yet already depleted? Consequences of late-night smartphone use and sleep. Organ Behav Hum Decis Process 2014;124(1):11–23.
- Chang AM et al. Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness. Takahashi JS ed. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2014. http://www.pnas.org/content/112/4/1232.full (accessed April 6, 2015).
- Harvard Medical School. Blue light has a dark side. Harvard Health Publications. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side (accessed April 7, 2015).
- Engert V et al. Cortisol increase in empathic stress is modulated by emotional closeness and observation modality. Psychoneuroendocrinology 2014;45:192–201.
- American Psychological Association. Stress and sleep: The sleep-stress cycle. 2013. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/sleep.aspx (accessed April 7, 2015).
- The Telegraph. Reading ‘can help reduce stress.’ March 30, 2009. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html (accessed April 6, 2015).
- Health. 7 bedtime behaviors that will help you sleep. http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20462696_2,00.html (accessed April 14, 2015).
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