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Screen Time and Sleep: Putting Your Phone Down

Checking Instagram, scrolling through Facebook, sending one last text before bed – we’ve all been there. “Just a couple more minutes” we say, as our eyes strain from the bright light. From smartphones and tablets to TVs and Kindles, we’re surrounded by screens every day – and they have crept their way into our bedrooms too. But as much as we try to change, who can honestly say that they take the time to shut down before bed?

Whether you leave your phone on your bedside table to answer emergency calls or texts, or you keep your tablet close by to instantly pick up emails and keep an eye on your work, you most likely don’t realise how much your screen time is affecting your sleep. But, thanks to health professionals and their research, we’re starting to realise just how much screen time and sleep are linked. But how much screen time is too much? And how can you minimise the effect it has on your sleep? Find out how to limit screen time below, as well as some extra sleep advice to keep you snoozing for longer.

Screen time and Sleep

Screen time and sleep deprivation

As time goes on, it becomes more evident that technology and sleep deprivation are linked. But how does screen time before bed affect the quality of your sleep?

How does looking at screens before bed affect your sleep?

Exposure to electronics before bed delays your internal body clock and impacts the release of melatonin – a natural hormone that helps to control your sleep cycle. As it gets dark, your levels of melatonin start to increase, and it’s this increase that helps you control your body temperature, blood pressure and other hormones (like dopamine). And, as we all know, these all contribute to a good night’s sleep.

But when you have just a minute or two of screen time before bed, this blue light exposure plays tricks on you, working to supress your melatonin levels which makes it that much harder to fall asleep. Blue light is the brightest light, which closely imitates daylight – tricking you into thinking it’s not quite time for sleep. So, the higher your average screen time per day, the more delayed the release of melatonin will be, ultimately resulting in an interrupted routine and a delayed REM sleep cycle.

So while you might be tempted to watch that last episode before bed to help you “drift off”, or scroll through your phone one more time before it’s lights out, you’re only harming yourself in the long run.

How much screen time is too much?

Screen time and sleep isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. For those who work in offices or on computers, a large amount of screen time can’t be avoided, so it’s difficult to tell how much screen time is too much. But there is a recommended average sleep time for adults that is certainly worth referring to.

Recommended average screen time

  • For children: the average screen time for children, that is non-educational, is one hour per weekday, and 3 hours per each day over the weekend.
  • For adults: in a similar vein, adults should limit their average screen time (outside of work) to around two hours per day – but many people spend up to 11 hours a day looking at a screen, due to work.

How to limit screen time for better sleep

There are many things you can do to help limit your screen time throughout the day, or to reduce the effects that screen time and sleep deprivation can have.
  • Cut your screen time off around an hour before bed, or even just 30 minutes if that’s all you can manage to begin with. That way, you give your body more time to release that melatonin. This includes your phone, tablets, laptop screens and TVs. Why not read a book or listen to a podcast instead?
  • Need an alarm? Buy a clock instead! That way, you can switch off your screens before bed.
  • Monitor your screen time throughout the day and try to limit it where possible – don’t spend more time on social media than you need to.
  • Set a family rule to leave your mobile phones and other electronic devices outside of your bedrooms at night – that way, you can’t be tempted.
If you’re struggling with how to limit your screen time, here are a few steps you can take to mitigate the risks of too much screen time before bed:
  • Minimise your exposure to blue light: are you struggling with the balance of screen time and sleep? Got some last-minute emails to send before bed? If you’re finding it difficult to lower your average screen time in the evening, make sure you switch your device to night mode or invest in some blue light glasses – this helps you move away from the bright, blue light and offers a warmer tone that’s much less harsh.
  • Go old school: there are plenty of activities you can do before bedtime, that don’t involve screens, to help you wind down. From making your way through a colouring book or trying out some new crafts, to simply reading a book – that is, unless you have an eReader! Instead, go back in time and pick up a paperback copy – because there’s nothing like the fresh smell of a book.
  • Evaluate your sleep environment: is screen time and sleep the last thing on your mind? Got other issues keeping you awake at night? Whether you’re overheating or suffering from allergies, you may want to take a look at your sleep environment. You may find that your bedding is playing a part in your sleep problems – and in fact, screen time and sleep deprivation is only a small part of it. Instead, switching to natural, eco bedding could offer a great solution to helping you get a better night’s sleep.
Now, with a better understanding of screen time and sleep deprivation, you can take a step towards a happier, healthier you – by adjusting your routine, cutting down your average screen time and making positive changes to your sleep environment.