Here’s why your devices could be sabotaging your sleep

If you’re a fan of a night time social media scroll, Phil Lawlor, a Sleep Expert from Dormeo, explains how it could be ruining your sleep and offers his tips for how to fix it.

Have you ever noticed that after a particularly bad night’s sleep you feel moody and groggy all day? That’s because sleep is vital for your wellbeing (Mental Health Foundation). We all have the odd bad night here and there, but a consistent lack of sleep can start to take a toll on your mental health and concentration. So, it’s best to nip it in the bud as early as possible to keep you functioning at your very best.

There are a few reasons why you might be struggling to sleep at night. Everything from your diet and bedroom can affect your ability to nod off. However, one factor that’s becoming increasingly more common is screen time. Studies have shown that people who spend a long time on their devices during the day and keep their phones by their bed at night get a poorer quality of sleep each night (NCBI). But why does screen time affect your ability to rest in this way?

Sleep displacement

In some cases, a relaxing activity like reading in bed can be healthy and help you unwind. But, if you find yourself reaching for your phone as you climb under your duvet, you might find yourself scrolling for a lot longer than you intend to.

Social media apps are designed to be addictive. Although you might only intend to be on them for a few minutes, you may not notice how much time you’ve spent scrolling until it’s 3am and you have no idea how you’ll get up for your 9am lecture in the morning. This leads to a later bedtime and shorter sleep duration — called sleep displacement — which can impact your mental health and focus.

Blue light

Your body has no internal clock and can’t keep track of time on its own. So, it uses blue light from the sun to regulate itself — called your circadian rhythm. At night when the sun goes down, your body knows that the lack of blue light means it’s time to sleep.

If you’re a fan of a late-night Netflix binge, you could be doing more harm than good to your sleep health. While it’s tempting to just watch one more episode, the blue light emitted from your screens can make your brain think it’s daytime. If you’re getting exposure to blue light from your devices well into the night, your body won’t be prepared for sleep and you’ll find it much harder to drift off.

Nocturnal awakenings

The term nocturnal awakening refers to any time you wake up during the night, and it’s especially common among people who use their phone until late. If you keep your phone next to your bed as you sleep, you might find that your brain isn’t able to fully switch off. Notifications can wake you up through the night, and your mind might be more tuned into your devices waiting for the next one, meaning you’ll be restless as you sleep.

How to boost your sleep health

Luckily, there’s no need to worry too much, because a lack of sleep can be fixed quite easily. With a few simple lifestyle changes you can improve your sleep health and boost your wellbeing. Avoiding your devices before bed can really benefit you, and there are a few other steps that might be worth considering to help you get a bit more shut eye.

Avoid devices at least an hour before bed

Although your assignments and Zoom lectures mean you might not be able to reduce your screen time during the day, you can still benefit from lowering your usage at night. Try to turn off your devices and put them away at least an hour before bed.

To stop the group chat keeping you up through the night, you might want to turn your phone off or put it on do not disturb. This will stop your phone vibrating even when it’s on silent, and it’ll stop the screen lighting up and disturbing your sleep.

In the hour before bed, you can try a relaxing activity instead of being on your phone. Reading a book and doing some yoga can all help you destress after a long day without over-activating your mind and body. Try this and you’ll probably find it a bit easier to drop off at night.

Manage your stress

The student lifestyle can come with many stressors that might stop you from sleeping each night, so it’s important to manage your stress before it causes any problems. Meditation can help you relax if things get overwhelming, and making time to unwind and have fun each day can help to keep anxiety at bay, so you can fall asleep more quickly.

Use your bed for sleeping

Although you might be tempted to complete your assignments and virtual lectures under the comfort of your duvet, this will make your mind think that it needs to be active while you’re in bed, and you’ll find it harder to fall asleep. So, you’ll need to create a boundary by only using your bed for sleep, and using your desk for work and other activities. This will train your brain to learn that your bed is a place for relaxing, and you’ll find it easier to drop off.

Create a sleep-friendly bedroom

Whether you’re in student accommodation or at home, your environment can also affect how you sleep. To stop you overheating or being too cold, the Sleep Council recommends you keep your bedroom at around 16–18°C. You should also try your best to block out any light or noise distractions that might keep you awake. Blackout curtains or blinds will keep light out, but you could also try a sleep mask. If noise is a problem, earplugs or a soothing sound machine might help.

You should also make sure that your mattress is fully supportive around your neck, shoulders, hips, and the base of your spine. If not, you might need to invest in a new mattress or get a mattress topper to make your bed more comfortable. For side sleepers, a soft mattress is ideal, but look for something firmer if you prefer to sleep on your back or front.

If you’re looking for ways to sleep better at night, just follow these tips to reduce your screen time, manage your stress, and make your bedroom more sleep friendly.