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Phones don't ruin sleep, but they're not bedtime buddies either

We’ve all heard the warnings: staring at your phone before bed will disrupt your sleep, thanks to that pesky blue light.

It’s advice echoed by health organizations worldwide, urging us to power down our screens an hour before hitting the hay. But, a new study is throwing a wrench in this well-worn narrative.

Blue light as a sleep villain?

Dr. Michael Gradisar, a sleep expert from Flinders University, Australia, recently led a comprehensive review of 11 studies examining the link between smartphone light and sleep.

His conclusion? The evidence simply doesn’t support a “meaningful” cause-and-effect relationship.

“There’s no evidence from these studies that screen light in the hour before bed makes it harder to fall asleep,” Dr. Gradisar boldly asserts.

He goes further, suggesting that when considering all the factors that can sabotage our sleep, screens might be a bit overrated.

This new research contradicts the widely accepted notion that blue light from screens directly suppresses melatonin production, a hormone crucial for regulating sleep cycles.

Prominent health organizations, like the NHS, have long advised reducing screen time before bed based on this belief.

But if blue light isn’t the primary culprit, what is?

The real reason phones delay sleep

According to Dr. Gradisar, the problem lies not in the light itself, but in our inability to resist the siren call of our devices.

Checking emails, scrolling through social media, or getting sucked into a YouTube rabbit hole – these are the real sleep thieves. He agrees that looking at your emails before bed is a “really bad idea.”

Professor Russell Foster, a circadian neuroscience expert from the University of Oxford, echoes this sentiment. He agrees that there’s “no evidence that the blue lights from screens have any significant impact at all.”

Instead, Professor Foster emphasizes the importance of disentangling the effect of the light from the act of using the phone itself.

Rise and fall of blue light panic

Professor Foster highlights an important discovery from the early 2000s. Researchers identified photosensitive retinal ganglion cells in our eyes, which are sensitive to blue light. This finding sparked widespread concern about blue light’s potential negative impacts.

As a result, a surge of products aimed at mitigating these effects entered the market. However, ongoing research has led to a more nuanced understanding of how blue light affects us.

While this recent study casts doubt on the direct link between blue light and sleep disruption, it’s crucial to acknowledge that blue light can influence our physiology in other ways. It’s known to increase alertness, improve cognitive function, and even positively affect mood.

Yet, prolonged exposure, particularly during nighttime hours, may still contribute to eye strain and pose potential risks to long-term eye health.

So, can I use my phone before sleep?

The takeaway? While a pre-sleep scroll might not be as detrimental to your sleep as previously thought, it’s still wise to establish healthy boundaries with your devices.

If you struggle with sleep, consider creating a tech-free buffer zone before bed and prioritize activities that promote relaxation and prepare your mind for rest.

“If we stand back and look at all of the factors that can be harmful to our sleep, screens are overrated,” Dr. Gradisar wisely advises.

Let’s shift the focus from demonizing blue light to fostering healthy sleep habits that prioritize rest and rejuvenation.

How to reduce phone use before sleep?

Using your phone less before sleep can significantly improve your sleep quality and overall well-being. Here are some strategies to help you reduce phone usage before bedtime:

Set a phone curfew

Establish a specific time each night to stop using your phone, ideally 30 minutes to an hour before bed. This gives your brain time to wind down from the day’s activities and prepares your body for sleep. To help enforce this curfew, consider setting an alarm to remind you to put your phone away.

Create a relaxing routine

Replace screen time with calming, non-digital activities. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Reading a book: Choose a physical book or an e-reader with an e-ink display that doesn’t emit blue light.
  • Listening to music or podcasts: Opt for soothing music or calming podcasts to help relax your mind.
  • Mindfulness or meditation: Practice deep breathing exercises, meditation, or gentle yoga to help calm your mind and body.
  • Taking a warm bath: A warm bath can help lower your body temperature, signaling to your body that it’s time to sleep.

Use night mode

If you must use your phone before bed, switch it to night mode or enable blue light filters. Many smartphones have a built-in “Night Shift” or “Blue Light Filter” feature that adjusts the screen’s colors to warmer tones, which are less likely to interfere with your sleep. You can also download apps that perform similar functions.

Charge your phone outside the bedroom

Charging your phone in another room can prevent the temptation to check it during the night. If you need your phone for an alarm, consider using a traditional alarm clock instead. If you must keep your phone in the bedroom, place it far from the bed to make it harder to reach.

Set boundaries with apps

Limit notifications and use apps that remind you to take breaks or monitor your screen time. For example:

  • Turn off notifications: Disable non-essential notifications to avoid interruptions.
  • Use screen time features: Both iOS and Android have features that allow you to set daily limits for app usage. Use these tools to limit time spent on social media or games before bed.
  • Download wellness apps: Some apps are designed to help reduce phone usage, such as apps that block access to distracting websites or send reminders to take breaks.

Find alternative activities

Engage in hobbies or tasks that don’t involve screens. Here are a few ideas:

  • Drawing or coloring: These activities can be both relaxing and creative.
  • Journaling: Writing about your day or noting things you’re grateful for can help clear your mind.
  • Gentle stretching or yoga: Light physical activity can help relax your muscles and prepare your body for sleep.

Create a sleep-friendly environment beyond phones

Ensure your bedroom is conducive to sleep by keeping it dark, quiet, and cool. Consider using blackout curtains, earplugs, or a white noise machine if necessary. Having a comfortable and supportive mattress and pillows can also make a big difference.

Consistency is key

Establishing these habits consistently will help signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. Over time, you’ll find it easier to fall asleep and wake up feeling more refreshed.

By implementing these detailed strategies, you can create a healthier bedtime routine and enjoy better sleep quality, leading to improved overall health and well-being.


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