Home/ How Sleep Works: Understanding the Science of Sleep/ How Electronics Affect Sleep
Danielle Pacheco, Staff Writer
Medically Reviewed by
Kimberly Truong, Sleep Physician
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The 2011 Sleep in America Poll from the National Sleep Foundation included questions about the use of electronics before bed. The survey found that roughly four in 10 Americans bring their cell phone into bed when trying to fall asleep. This behavior was particularly common among adolescents and young adults between the ages of 13 and 29. Additionally, six in 10 respondents claimed to use a desktop or laptop computer within one hour of going to bed.
Tempting as it might be to use your computer or phone before bed, studies have shown these devices can interfere with sleep by suppressing the production of melatonin, a natural hormone released in the evening to help you feel tired and ready for sleep. This leads to neurophysiologic arousals that increase feelings of alertness when you should be winding down instead.
Why Do Electronic Devices Keep You Up?
The biological clock in healthy adults follows a 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. When the sun rises in the morning, your body produces cortisol, a hormone that makes you feel awake and alert. As daylight fades, the body releases another hormone, melatonin, that produces feelings of sleepiness.
Electronic back-lit devices like cell phones, tablets, readers, and computers emit short-wavelength enriched light, also known as blue light. Fluorescent and LED lights also emit blue light, which has been shown to reduce or delay the natural production of melatonin in the evening and decrease feelings of sleepiness. Blue light can also reduce the amount of time you spend in slow-wave and rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep, two stages of the sleep cycle that are vital for cognitive functioning.
Children are particularly vulnerable to sleep problems stemming from electronic devices that emit blue light. Numerous studies have established a link between using devices with screens before bed and increases in sleep latency, or the amount of time it takes someone to fall asleep. Additionally, children who use these devices at night often do not receive enough high-quality sleep and are more likely to feel tired the next day.
Certain types of household lighting can also affect melatonin production at night. One study found that bright bedroom lighting can decrease the nocturnal production of melatonin by as much as 90 minutes compared to dim lighting.
In addition to causing sleep problems, blue light can also cause retina damage. Unlike blue light, red, yellow, and orange light have little to no effect on your circadian rhythm. Dim light with one of these colors is considered optimal for nighttime reading. Portable e-readers like the Kindle and Nook emit blue light, but not to the same extent as other electronic devices. If you prefer to use an e-reader such as a Kindle or Nook, dim the display as much as possible.
Tips for Using Technology at Night
We recommend avoiding computers, smartphones, and other blue light-emitting devices in the hours leading up to bedtime. However, this may not be an option for certain people, such as those who work or study at night. If you need to use one of these devices in the evening, the following strategies can help you sleep longer and better.
- Decrease Your Daytime and Nighttime Electronics Use: Using electronic devices for long periods during the day can negatively impact sleep too, especially among adolescents. Common effects include shorter sleep duration, longer sleep onset, and more sleep deficiency. Talk to your teenagers about excessive electronics exposure and, if need be, impose restrictions on their daily use.
- Establish a Relaxing Bedtime Routine: A regular bedtime that ensures an adequate amount of rest is essential for healthy sleep. The hour before bed should consist of relaxing activities that don’t involve devices with screens.
- Make Your Bedroom a Screen-Free Zone: While a lot of people prefer to keep a television in their bedroom, watching TV before bed is generally discouraged due to the negative effect it can have on your sleep. In fact, we recommend removing all of your electronic devices from your bedroom – and encourage your kids to do the same.
- Keep the Bedroom Lights Dim: Light intensity is measured in a unit known as lux. Some studies have shown that normal indoor light levels of 100 lux or more can suppress melatonin production and interfere with your sleep-wake schedule. Dimmer indoor lighting affects your melatonin production to a much lesser extent.
- Use Nighttime Mode: Many cell phones, tablets, and other portable electronic devices are equipped with a “nighttime mode” that is easier on the eyes before bed. As one study noted, the most effective nighttime modes reduce blue light emissions and decrease the display’s brightness setting. You should manually dim the display if your device does not automatically adjust the brightness in nighttime mode.
- Invest in Some “Blue Blocker” Glasses: You can purchase orange-tinted eyeglasses specifically designed to shield your eyes from blue light emissions. This may not be ideal, especially if you don’t like wearing glasses, but some studies have found them to be very effective. Blue light blocking glasses are relatively inexpensive, and you should be able to find a decent pair for less than $100.
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About Our Editorial Team
Danielle writes in-depth articles about sleep solutions and holds a psychology degree from the University of British Columbia.
Dr. Truong is a Stanford-trained sleep physician with board certifications in sleep and internal medicine. She is the founder of Earlybird Health.
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Self-reports suggest that sleep is indeed affected by technology use in the hour before bed. Such late-night technology users report less satisfactory sleep more often than those not using technology before bed. They are also more likely to feel sleepier during the day in a range of situations, including driving.Why do Electronics affect sleep? ›
Electronic back-lit devices like cell phones, tablets, readers, and computers emit short-wavelength enriched light, also known as blue light. Fluorescent and LED lights4 also emit blue light, which has been shown to reduce or delay the natural production of melatonin in the evening and decrease feelings of sleepiness.How are electrical gadgets leading to not enough or poor quality of sleep? ›
Gadgets Keep the Brain Awake
Muscles throughout the body remain tense and these interactions tend to create stress. Even a low level of stress causes the brain to release cortisol, which will make it more difficult to relax and fall asleep.
Studies indicate that screen time before bed can increase the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, reduce sleep quality, and affect attentiveness the following day. In the long term, nightly exposure to light in the evening may increase the risk of certain sleep disorders and cancers.Can Electronics affect quality sleep? ›
Using devices tends to delay the time when you actually go to sleep, reducing sleep duration. Technology affects the brain, stimulating your mind and making it harder to fall asleep. Sounds and blinking lights can cause unwanted awakenings when sleeping next to electronics.Why should you not use electronics before bed? ›
Blue light is harmful to your eyes.
The blue light emitted by your cell phone screen restrains the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep-wake cycle (aka circadian rhythm). This makes it even more difficult to fall asleep and wake up the next day.
Many common chemicals affect both quantity and quality of sleep. These include caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and antihistamines, as well as prescription medications including beta blockers, alpha blockers, and antidepressants.Does sleeping next to your phone affect you? ›
Reasons to Keep Your Phone Out of Bed
Cell phone and screen use have been directly linked to disruptions of your circadian rhythm, or natural sleep-wake cycle. As noted in research on children and adolescents, the blue light emitted by cell phones inhibits the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you drowsy.
Remove your smartphone, tablet, and computer from your bedroom at least one hour before you go to sleep. If you have to keep any of these devices in your bedroom, then use a do-not-disturb function or turn them to silent or completely off so that you are not tempted to look at their screens if you awaken in the night.Does the light from a phone or computer make it hard to sleep? ›
Yes, it's true: The light from a phone or laptop confuses the brain into thinking it's time to wake up instead of fall asleep. Light from electronic screens comes in all colors, but the blues are the worst. Blue light fools the brain into thinking it's daytime.
The bottom line. Many people sleep with their TV on every night. Experts are generally against this, because sleeping with your TV on can reduce the sleep you get, interrupt your body's melatonin production, keep your brain overstimulated, and lead to long-term health effects.How can social media affect sleep? ›
Social media usage around bedtime can negatively affect how long and how well you sleep. Looking at social media in bed can make it harder for you to fall asleep. It can also reduce the amount of time you sleep for and leave you feeling unrefreshed the next day.How does screen time affect mental health? ›
“Excess screen time effects can include depression, obesity, poor quality of life, unhealthy diet and decreased physical and cognitive abilities.What can I do instead of my phone at night? ›
- Cozy Up With a New Book. ...
- Organize Your Nightstand. ...
- Call or FaceTime a Friend. ...
- Take 15 Minutes to Move Your Body. ...
- Do a Clean Sweep of Expired Fridge Items. ...
- Give Yourself an At-Home Manicure. ...
- Write in a Gratitude Journal.
Keep your cell phone at least 3 feet away from your bed to limit radio frequency exposure. Turn your cell phone off before you go to bed (if you don't rely on your phone's alarm clock)Is it good to switch off phone every night? ›
Experts recommend shutting down your phone at least once a week. After shutting it down, let it rest for a minute or two before starting it back up again. Not only will this help enhance your phone's performance, it is also incredibly beneficial for your battery.How can I improve the quality of my sleep? ›
- Stick to a sleep schedule. Set aside no more than eight hours for sleep. ...
- Pay attention to what you eat and drink. Don't go to bed hungry or stuffed. ...
- Create a restful environment. Keep your room cool, dark and quiet. ...
- Limit daytime naps. ...
- Include physical activity in your daily routine. ...
- Manage worries.
People with good sleep quality have 20 minutes or less of wakefulness during the night. Sleep efficiency: The amount of time you spend actually sleeping while in bed is known as sleep efficiency. This measurement should ideally be 85 percent or more for optimal health benefits.How can I test my sleep quality? ›
A sleep tracker can make an educated guess about your sleep stages. But the only way to accurately identify what stage of sleep you are in is to measure brain activity during a clinical sleep study (polysomnography).How far should you keep your phone away from your face? ›
Most people tend to hold their cell phones only about 8 inches from their faces. Not good. Try holding yours at least 16 to 18 inches away from your eyes to give your eyes a break. It might feel funny at first but shouldn't take long to get used to.
Your phone's vibrations do more than wake you up, and electromagnetic radiation impacts your brain activity and can be harmful to the heart and brain. Moreover, the overall impact of using a phone near you before sleep is forked and should be kept at a distance if not switched off.What happens if you sleep with your phone next to your head? ›
Some people are so attached to their cell phones that they sleep with them on their nightstand or even under their pillow. Bad idea. Cell phones pump out electromagnetic radiation whenever they're on - which means sleeping with one nearby boosts your exposure all night long.Why do I need TV on to sleep? ›
“A key feature of insomnia (or general inability to fall asleep) is that people are inwardly focused and often have cyclic thoughts,” says Zeitzer. “Watching something on TV can, basically, allow people to get out of their own way and allow for sleep to occur.”Why does screen time affect sleep? ›
Using screens can affect how quickly your child falls asleep and how long your child sleeps. This happens for several reasons: Screen use in the hour before bed can stimulate your child. Blue light from televisions, computer screens, phones and tablets might suppress melatonin levels and delay sleepiness.How does technology affect children's sleep? ›
Experiments confirm that the blue light emitted by electronic screens can reprogram the brain to delay the onset of sleep. In addition, the exciting (and sometimes distressing) content of electronic media may do the same, prompting children to fall asleep later, and perhaps even awaken during the night.How can social media affect sleep? ›
Social media usage around bedtime can negatively affect how long and how well you sleep. Looking at social media in bed can make it harder for you to fall asleep. It can also reduce the amount of time you sleep for and leave you feeling unrefreshed the next day.What are the negative effects of technology? ›
- Depression and Other Mental Health Issues. A University of Michigan study found that Facebook use led to a decrease in happiness and overall life satisfaction. ...
- Lack of Sleep. ...
- ADHD. ...
- Obesity. ...
- Learning Barriers. ...
- Decreased Communication and Intimacy. ...
- Cyberbullying. ...
- Loss of Privacy.
More so than any other color, blue light messes with your body's ability to prepare for sleep because it blocks a hormone called melatonin that makes you sleepy. Bottom line: You're less drowsy than usual at night, and it takes you longer to fall asleep.Do screens affect sleep? ›
Screen time is linked to a host of insomnia symptoms in teenagers. By delaying the release of melatonin, screen time pushes back bedtime and leads to less restful sleep. As the majority of teens have strict school start times, a later bedtime usually results in less sleep overall and increased next-day sleepiness.Does screen light affect sleep? ›
Light from electronic screens comes in all colors, but the blues are the worst. Blue light fools the brain into thinking it's daytime. When that happens, the body stops releasing a sleep hormone called melatonin. Melatonin is nature's way of helping us wind down and prepare for bed.
Problematic smartphone use has been consistently linked to poor sleep in previous studies (4, 21), and smartphone overuse has been associated with daytime tiredness, longer sleep latency, and reduced sleep duration (22–24).How does social media affect your brain? ›
Researchers believe that since social media competes for your attention with the promise of continuous new content, heavy social media users become less able to ignore distraction in general, which leads to poorer cognitive performance and shrinks parts of the brain associated with maintaining concentration.What are Negative Impact of social media? ›
Social media harms
However, social media use can also negatively affect teens, distracting them, disrupting their sleep, and exposing them to bullying, rumor spreading, unrealistic views of other people's lives and peer pressure. The risks might be related to how much social media teens use.
- Inadequacy about your life or appearance. ...
- Fear of missing out (FOMO). ...
- Isolation. ...
- Depression and anxiety. ...
- Cyberbullying. ...
- Self-absorption. ...
- A fear of missing out (FOMO) can keep you returning to social media over and over again.
Technology Use Can Create Structural Changes in the Brain.
Pings, alerts, rings, and notifications can shift our focus in a way that can lead to long-lasting difficulties with paying attention. Difficulties paying attention can lead to poorer performance on academic, personal, and professional tasks.
Technology is a part of our lives. It can have some negative effects, but it can also offer many positive benefits and play an important role in education, health, and general welfare.What is the good and bad effect of technology? ›
What are the effects of technology? It has both positive and negative effect. Some of them are increasing satisfaction, better communication channels, eliminating geographical boundaries and some negatives are obesity, health issues, sleep problems, etc.What color is best for sleep? ›
Blue. Blue is perhaps the best color for your bedroom. Not only is it more muted, but blue tones also tend to have more calming effects on the brain, as shown in a 2018 study of blue walls in a university residence hall.Which color light helps you sleep? ›
What color light helps you sleep? Warm light is better for sleep because the eyes are less sensitive to the longer wavelengths in warm light. Light bulbs with a yellow or red hue and are best for bedside lamps.Which light is good for sleep? ›
Red light. Red light is by far the best calming light color for sleep. Choosing a red light as a nightlight ensures that you don't disrupt your circadian rhythm. So switching to a red light a few hours before going to bed will surely help you fall asleep easier.