Smartphone use has increasingly become a way of life. We rely on our phones for a myriad of functions – they keep us informed, entertained and enable us to stay connected. Whilst they serve many purposes, smartphones have the potential to harm our health – specifically, our sleep.

A recent study found participants who used their smartphone for more than 60 minutes before bedtime, were over seven times more likely to be poor quality sleepers. The findings are important as sleep disturbance has been associated with chronic illnesses including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Group sleep services manager at Epworth, Darrel Wicks, believes technology has skewed our work-life balance to the detriment of our health.

“Technology finds its way intermingling into all aspects of our lives – including the bedroom. It’s our ability to switch off mentally and physically which is impeded by these devices because they are so invasive.”

Mr Wicks explained there are two reasons why smartphone use before bedtime affects sleep. Firstly, blue light from smartphones halts the production of melatonin – a natural sleep-inducing drug made by the body. When melatonin production is inhibited, it may lead to insomnia. Furthermore, sounds and notifications can impact the initiation and maintenance of sleep. In other words, smartphones in the bedroom may reduce sleep hygiene.

Sleep hygiene is multifactorial and describes habits which enable a good night’s sleep. In terms of technology – not using a smartphone before bed, putting it in another room when you sleep or turning on the do not disturb function, can improve sleep hygiene. Other habits include – not consuming caffeine after noon, going to bed and waking up at the same time each day and sleeping in a dark room.

According to Mr Wicks, the bedroom should only be used for two reasons – intimacy and sleep. He recommends individuals have a buffer zone in place before bed.

“There’s a time leading up to that buffer zone where you can get on your screen and you can watch Netflix. But then, there’s a buffer zone of an hour or two where screens need to be put away.”

Realistically, a buffer zone may not work for everyone. The key is to limit smartphone use as much as you can before bedtime. This could be done by having a cup of herbal tea, reading a book or journaling. If this is not possible, you might find blue light glasses and apps which reduce blue light to be effective.

For a lot of us, smartphones are a full-time accessory. However, reduction is key during all hours of the day. When you wake up, try to avoid checking your phone for notifications straight away, as tempting as it may be.

“I think we have to be a little bit mindful of the way we use it, how we use it and the amount we use mobile technology.”

For information regarding sleep disorders and how to access the Sleep Clinic at Epworth, visit the following link.

Author Kristyna Stepnicka

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