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Phones, devices, and sleep

Earlier this month we launched the #signingoff challenge. We wanted a fun way to rethink our use of devices before bed. The challenge is not to use your devices 1 hour before bed. We’ve been looking into how this can help with your sleep and mental health.

Who knew that one hour away from our devices can help us feel better, wake up more rested and give us better sleep? Well not many people the national sleep foundation found that 95% of us use some sort of computer, video game, phone within an hour of bed. This isn’t a surprise as our phone are often the last thing we look at, setting our alarm and clearing our notifications is part of our sleep routines

From the [Rest Space] sleep webinars I was all too familiar with the impact that even 1 hour less sleep can have on our mood and performance. I was curious to know if our device's were impacted our sleep quality.

We took a deep dive into the popular topic on the effect blue light from our devices has on our sleep. I wanted to look at the other reasons our devices impact our sleep.

My body wants to sleep but my brain is telling me NOOOO

Many of us have forgotten to prepare for bed. When we were kids we knew bath time, pyjamas and a bedtime story meant bedtime. This helped us not only calm our bodies but also our minds. As much as we need to physically prepare, we also need to get our minds ready for bed, wind them down. Otherwise, we jump in bed and lie there awake, spending commutative hours and days over our lifetime waiting for sleep. Then we get frustrated, we can't sleep and countless other frustrating situations start to come to mind. Now you are awake. Deprived of hours of sleep. Or in some cases you fall asleep and wake up in a few hours worrying, unable to fall back asleep. This can be the result of us not winding our minds down before we sleep, leaving all our stressors front of mind.

We also need to get our minds ready for bed, wind them down

Using our devices before we go to bed compounds this problem. Our devices arouse us, they represent all the things we still have to do, the fun, the social engagements we are missing out on, the stress of work - they do the opposite of winding down. They wind us up.

Even a quick scroll or glance at our notifications can arouse us, keeping our brain active for long after we have put our devices away. We associate them with everything going on in our lives.

Junk sleep - think junk food

When thinking of what is good sleep I like to think of it like food, to me good food makes me feel full and it gives me lots of nutrients and tastes amazing. When it comes to sleep many of us only think of it in terms of making us full. Was it enough sleep? We also need to think, was it good sleep. Our brain and body are very active when we sleep with lots going on to process and repair us mentally and physically this are what I equate to getting nutrients from food. Some indications of not getting your ‘sleep nutrients’ are tossing and turning, not being able to get back to sleep after waking up, feeling tired all day even though you slept enough.

Finally, does it taste good, this one is even more subjective but I like to think of it as my dream. If you are going to bed with a negative mindset your dreams are more likely to echo this.

Several things impact your quality of sleep like stress and psychological factors, light, drugs including alcohol and caffeine and our DEVICES. Think of these as the oils and sugars in our food, a little is great but too much of them is…. well undesirable.

Why is my phone a problem when it's so smart?

Research into why devices impact our sleep is still very young. Theories currently name a number of factors from physiological arousal which I have covered a lot here, lights impacting our circadian clocks which we have covered in a previous blog and even radio frequencies (RF-EMF) potentially affecting our brains. What is sure from all the studies is that limiting phone use before bed does improve your quality and quantity of sleep, - in food terms: you are full and get lots of nutrients.

A study this year from Second Military Medical University, Shanghai, found restricting mobile phone use before bedtime for four weeks was effective in ‘reducing sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), increasing sleep duration, improving sleep quality, reducing pre-sleep arousal, and improving positive affect and working memory.’ This study echoes and provides more detail to similar studies carried out in Finland, Sweden and Saudi Arabia

In short you spend more of your time in bed actually asleep waiting to sleep or restless, you wake up feeling more refreshed, and you generally sleep for longer. When you look at the impact even 1 hour more sleep can have on your mood, physical fitness, performance, creativity and productivity it seems to me like a no brainer to put my devices down one hour before bed.

Devices are a detriment to one of the most important pillars of our health and we need to establish a better relationship.

The research into the impact our phones have on our sleep all tells the same story, they are a detriment to one of the most important pillars of our health and we need to establish a better relationship. Until we get a better understanding of the cause we know we can still benefit greatly by putting away our devices an hour before bed. Sleep plays such an important role in our physical and mental wellbeing. Improving our sleep can have a positive effect in every other aspect of our wellbeing.

Some practical tips

Set a reminder to put your devices away. I personally put mine on flight mode. For those of you that wouldn’t want to be ‘unavailable’ maybe put it in a different room with notifications on silent, or turn off the internet so if someone needs to get hold of you in an emergency they can still reach you through a good old fashioned call.

If you slip up on one day don’t beat yourself up, habits take time to build - keep trying.

This hour is a great time to read, plan our days, journal, have a hot bath, indulge in some self-care. For the better lot of us this time can be used for meditation or yoga. If you have families, it can be a chance to prepare for the next day without the added stress of tending to every notification. It takes some time to find what this no phone zone will look like for you, don’t give up.

Instead of trying to minimise the amount of sleep you have why not try and maximise the quality of your sleep? Sleep is non-negotiable, let's make sure we increase the ‘sleep nutrients’ and stop wasting our time with junk sleep.


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