A good nights sleep is heavily sought after; everyone needs a rest. Yet there are many reports it is getting harder and harder to achieve the desired amount of hours, and lots of evidence is pointing to an everyday item many cannot live without; a mobile phone. It is well recorded that portables are not great for sleep, but just how damaging are they to our sleeping schedules and what are the wider implications of sleep deprivation towards mental health?
When it comes to using phones, there are not many guidelines, aside from pitiful liability statements in the discardable user manual. Electronics companies do not inform us where and when it is inadvisable to use a phone and how much is too much. Of course, it is at each individual user’s discretion, but the desire or belief that one should be continuously connected has evolved to the extent that phones being in places that would have been initially frowned upon has become normalised, such as the bedroom. Despite there being legitimate reasons for having a phone in the bedroom, such as the use of the morning alarm, what is ignored is that this can lead to severe effects upon both physical and mental health.
Most electronic devices’ screens emit something called ‘blue light.’ This type of light which is integrated with the rest of the display is accidentally emulative of daylight. Therefore by being exposed to this well after sunset, the brain can misinterpret the time of day thereby affecting the sleep cycle. In response to this blue light, the brain will suppress melatonin production, a hormone involved in controlling your circadian rhythm and bedtime readiness. This, along with the subconscious association of other activities with the bed other than sleep, contributes to sleep deprivation and possible long-term insomnia. Thankfully most phone companies have recognised the dangers of ‘blue light’ and so in response offer nighttime filters to help reduce the effects; Apple has Night Shift, and Android has Night Light. However, these filters only try and minimise the effects, with none actually removing the threat of ‘blue light’ entirely. Indeed, the problems that phones cause in regards to sleep are more than just ‘blue light’ and cannot be merely solved by making the screen a soothing shade of orange.
The effects of sleep deprivation go far deeper than the struggle of up the early morning lecture; prolonged sleep problems have wider ramification towards mental health and wellbeing. Those who regularly struggle to sleep properly or have a form of insomnia were found to be four times more likely to develop depression, in comparison to those who sleep relatively usually. Sleeping problems have also been seen as a precursor or symptom to both depressions as well as bipolar and anxiety disorders. According to Neurocore around “80 per cent of people seeking mental health care also complain of issues with sleep.” So the effects found from phone usage in bed can affect you more than you think in the long term.
Phones are a fantastic gateway to knowledge, socialising and cat memes, but it is important to recognise they also have a negative side if overused or used in the wrong place. Yet, it is also important to note that all studies and statistics around the effect of phones on sleep and mental health should be taken with a pinch of salt, due to a lack of longevity in the field and the difficulty with keeping up with the ever-changing technology. This is illustrated in part by the fact that many studies on the effect of phones were completed before the 2016 introduction of Apple’s Night Shift which changed and minimised the way ‘blue light’ affects us. Nevertheless, it is worth considering how much time we spend on our phones and maybe occasionally putting our phones down half an hour or so before going to bed, thereby maximising the probability of a good night’s sleep.
Image: Bosland Corp. via Flickr