Why You Should Not Sleep With Your Cell Phone at Night

Light and Stimulation May Fragment Sleep and Lead to Insomnia

Man using cell phone in bed
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If you are like most people, the last thing you look at before going to sleep (and the first thing you see upon awakening) may be your phone. How might this impact your ability to sleep and contribute to insomnia? Should you sleep with your phone in the bedroom? What are potential harmful effects to keeping a phone near you in bed? Consider how sleeping near a phone may impact your ability to sleep, and changes that you can make tonight to help yourself to sleep better.

How Modern Phones Differ in Impacting Sleep

Phones have been around since Alexander Graham Bell invented the first telephone in 1876. It is only in the last several decades that a dramatic change has occurred, both in their function and role in our lives. No longer solely a way to speak with someone at a distance, modern phones have a variety of roles.

Mobile, cell, or smart phones are now fully integrated into our daily lives. These marvels of technology function as pocket-sized computers. With them, we can perform many activities necessary for modern living. It is possible to make phone calls, send text messages, map a route, surf the Internet, respond to emails, and interact via social media like Facebook and Twitter. We can also play games and use apps to perform a stunning array of tasks. It should be no surprise that these functions may also have the potential to intrude upon our sleep.

Many of these activities may prompt a compulsive desire to continue refreshing, checking, responding, reading, scrolling, posting, clicking, or playing. It feels good and there is a limitless opportunity for additional stimulation. It may be tough to stop and put the device away. This alone may lead to a delay in bedtime and reduced total sleep time.

This may contribute to sleep deprivation if the needed hours of sleep to feel rested are not obtained. In addition, the stimulation may make it hard to shut down and fall asleep. The mind may be overly excited or activated.

In addition, the light from phone, tablet, or computer screens may impact the ability to fall asleep. Small amounts of artificial light from the screens may cause a delay in the circadian rhythm. This may be especially impactful on night owls with a naturally delayed sleep phase. If morning sunlight is not obtained to counteract these effects, insomnia and morning sleepiness may result.

Perils to Keeping a Phone in the Bedroom

There are certain reasons why you may want to keep your phone out of your bedroom. Certainly this makes it easier to avoid prolonged use when you should be transitioning to sleep. It also prevents compulsive checking should you wake in the night. If you wake and read something upsetting, it may be difficult to fall back asleep. There are other risks to consider as well.

Phones are designed to prompt your response. There may be rings, alerts, alarms, or lights that catch your attention. This is useful when awake, but troublesome in the night. These may provoke an awakening.

If you have already fallen asleep, but forget to place your phone in a night or airplane mode, random text messages or calls may wake you. This can fragment sleep quality. It might also wake you enough to elicit a response, without fully waking you, resulting in incoherent speech or even sleep texting.

Some people express concern about the impacts of electromagnetic fields on the risk for health problems. These concerns have included increased risks for brain tumors (most especially on the side of the head where a phone is held) or the impacts on fertility (especially in men, who have external and exposed reproductive organs).

The World Health Organization issued a warning that the devices could be potentially carcinogenic in 2011, though there is no research demonstrating such an association. Nevertheless, caution might dictate reducing the exposure by eliminating the presence of phones from bedrooms.

Changes to Make to Improve Sleep Tonight

It is clear that phones may be disruptive to the ability to sleep. If you have insomnia, or simply do not get enough sleep, this is a simple change that might help. Reflect on how much your phone may be impacting your sleep environment and consider the following changes:

Place the phone to charge in the kitchen. Allow yourself to go to bed without your phone. If there is an emergency, you will learn about it in the morning. By removing the phone from the bedroom, and placing it to charge in another room such as the kitchen, it is possible to reduce its impact on your sleep.

Get an alarm clock instead of using your phone’s alarm. Although phones can do a lot, sometimes the trade-off of intrusion for convenience is simply not worth it. Buy an inexpensive alarm clock if you need one to wake in the morning on time. Put it across the room and set it to the time you need to get up. As much as possible, don’t look at the clock or check the time at night. If you absolutely must use your phone as your alarm clock (perhaps while traveling), set it to airplane mode to reduce disruptions and place it out of reach.

Turn off the sleep-tracking apps. Some people use their phones as a way to track sleep and wake patterns with various apps or even wearable technology. The accuracy of correlating movement to wakefulness and stillness to sleep is highly suspect. Moreover, there is no reason to carefully document every movement (or associated awakening) during the night. It may be disruptive to overanalyze sleep.

Preserve a buffer zone and minimize light at night. Try to protect the last hour (or two) before your bedtime as a time to relax and prepare for sleep. Enjoy some time spent reading, watching television or a movie, or listening to music. Reduce your eye’s exposure to direct light. As able, switch any close screens to night mode (reducing blue light). If you are especially sensitive to light at night, consider eliminating it as much as possible.

Optimize the sleep environment. Consider other ways that you might enhance your bedroom to make it the ultimate sleep sanctuary. Go to bed when you feel sleepy. If you are awake for longer than 20 minutes at night, get up and do something relaxing and return to bed when feeling sleepy. If you are awake towards morning, you might get up and start your day early. Reserve the bed as a space for sleep and sex alone. By making these changes, you will improve the association of the bed as a place for sleep.

A Word From Verywell

Try your best to put technology in its place. These devices are designed to enhance our lives, but they can become intrusive if not contained. Commit yourself to removing the phone from your bedroom. This small change may help you to optimize your ability to sleep and ensure that you get enough sleep to feel rested. If you are struggling with poor sleep, reach out to a board-certified sleep specialist to get the help that you need. Persistent chronic insomnia can be effectively resolved with cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI), a treatment that often yields benefits in as little as 6 weeks.

Sources:

"Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile phones." World Health Organization.

Hochfelder, D. "Alexander Graham Bell." Encyclopaedia Britannica. 

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