Switch off for a better night’s sleep

People who spend 30 hours of weekly leisure time looking at a screen more than double their chances of sleep problems.1

As we recognize World Sleep Day on March 16, 2018, we talk to Dr. Carmel Harrington, a sleep medicine expert from Australia, about our modern life and how it impacts our sleep patterns, and in turn, our overall health.

“For decades, human sleep patterns have been influenced by the sun and the moon. Without daylight there wasn’t much we could do so, when it was dark, we slept” she says.

“Nowadays we have endless entertainment options that carry on throughout the night. From Netflix, to YouTube to catching up on work emails. While technology has increased our entertainment options, it’s also caused us to lose the discipline of sleep. All that screen time is affecting pillow time, with studies confirming a correlation between the number of screen hours and difficulty sleeping.” 2

Emma Reynolds, 26, knows all about losing sleep as a result of her constant use of technology, with too many late nights spent entranced by the blue light of her smartphone.

“It’s so easy for me to lose hours of valuable sleep every night,” says Emma. “I take my phone to bed to use it as an alarm clock but end up shopping online and scrolling through Instagram or Facebook. It’s hard to switch off when there are so many social media accounts to keep up with and television shows to binge-watch, but I know I need to if I want to get a good night’s sleep.”

“If I’ve stayed up too late scrolling through my phone I find it really impacts my day. I’m tired, less focused and less energized to do the things I love – like go to the gym and see my friends.”

Like Emma, most people have their smartphone glued to their hands and almost 80% of us take our phones to bed, resulting in difficulty falling asleep and insomnia.3 Repeated and prolonged use of media in bed can result in our beds and bedrooms losing their sleep-inducing power.3 Poor sleep quality doesn’t just impact tiredness levels, it can also significantly predict illnesses such as depression and anxiety.4

Photo Carmel Harrington
"Technology penetrates so much of our lives that it’s hard to switch off. However, resetting the boundaries between the bedroom and the entertainment room is the key to improving our sleep – and what better time to make the change than on World Sleep Day? If you toss and turn into the early hours you don’t have to continue with sleepless nights. You can take steps to improve your slumber by understanding the science of sleep."
Doctor Carmel Harrington, sleep medicine expert

Our ability to fall asleep relies on the production of melatonin – the ‘sleep’ hormone, which helps calm us down and tells us it’s time to sleep. The blue light of your smart phone or laptop has been shown to suppress the production of melatonin and delay the circadian rhythm of sleep (your internal 24-hour body clock) – preventing you from falling asleep.1 However, it’s not just the blue light that can impact your sleep. The videos you watch and the articles you read arouse mental activity, and trigger the production of cortisol – the ‘awake’ hormone. Cortisol suppresses the production of melatonin which means constant Facebook scrolling will keep you awake long after you log off.

However, not all technology has a negative impact on sleep. In recent years the availability of wearable technology has helped people monitor the quality of their sleep in the comfort of their own homes. This technology can show the level of deep sleep the wearer gets throughout the night as well an average number of hours slept. The data can then be used to discover wider lifestyle trends such as a correlation between sleep and alcohol, exercise and stress. These trends can then work to influence people to re-evaluate their routines to improve the quality of their sleep and their moods throughout the day. This could include banning laptops and smartphones in the bedroom or developing a set bedtime routine.

Here are Dr. Carmel Harrington’s top tips for a better night’s sleep:

  1. Wake up at the same time every day.
  2. Set an alarm one hour before bed time, switch off all technology, dim the lights and prepare for sleep.
  3. Avoid eating a big meal or exercising within three hours of bed time.
  4. Avoid caffeine after midday, particularly if you are older, as your body takes longer to metabolize it
  5. And remember - alcohol is a sleep stealer.

For more information on getting a good night’s sleep, speak to your healthcare professional or visit www.worldsleepday.org.

  1. Andersen, L & Garde, A. Sleep problems and computer use during work and leisure: Cross-sectional study among 7800 adults. Chronobiology International, (2014)32:10, 1367-1372
  2. O’Dene Lewis et al. The US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Family and Community Health 2017, 40 (3) 231-235
  3. Nesdal Fossum et al. The Association Between Use of Electronic Media in Bed Before Going to Sleep and Insomnia Symptoms, Daytime Sleepiness, Morningness, and Chronotype. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, (2013)12:5, 343-357
  4. Adams, S & Kisler, T. Sleep Quality as a Mediator Between Technology-Related Sleep Quality, Depression, and Anxiety. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, (2013) 16:1, 25-30