Have you noticed?
More and more people are obsessed with their smart phones.
No, obsessed is not too strong a word for it.
According to a recent study nearly three-quarters of Americans who own a smartphone sleep with their smart phone!
Worse still, 3% of people sleep literally holding their cell phone in their hands!!
Wow – hardly bears thinking about.
Here is guest post from Marie Miguel, which looks at the dangers of taking your cell phone to bed particularly in terms of the anxiety it can produce and she gives some tips on what to do about it:
Many people now sleep with their smartphones near their bed. Increasingly, the phone is on the bed with them or they fall asleep while still looking at social media, texting, or playing a mobile game.
You may not realize it, but:
- This habit can be highly detrimental to your health and in particular your mental health
- Taking your phone to bed can cause anxiety
- If you already suffer from anxiety using your cell phone in bed can exacerbate your symptoms
Cell phone radiation impacts sleep
Smartphones can disrupt your sleep in several ways. One is the EMFs (electromagnetic fields) that are emitted by your cell phone. No surprise there.
Modern smart phones are constantly emitting and receiving EMFs, or radio-frequency microwave radiation, to be more precise. They are performing a variety of tasks, checking in with the cell phone tower to see if there are any messages, any incoming calls, giving out information for geo-localization.
All this happens when your cell phone is ‘off’. That’s to say when you’re not using it. The only way to stop it doing all this is to put it in airplane mode. And even then in many phones the GPS is still working. If you’re still in doubt how important it is to use airplane mode read this article.
Cell phone radiation is generally lower power than similar technologies like cell phone towers and WiFi routers. BUT you use your cell phone in closer proximity to your body.
This is important because radio frequency radiation exposures fall off greatly with distance. So the small distance between you and your phone when you are sleeping, particularly if your phone is in your hand (god forbid) means these exposures will almost certainly impact your health and you may even experience sleep disturbance.
How does this sleep disturbance happen?
When the radiation reaches your eyes and brain, they disrupt the brain waves that signal sleep and can interfere with R.E.M. sleep cycles (the sleep cycles where you get your deepest rest).
How do you know if your sleep is being disturbed by nighttime EMF exposures? A good indication is that you are able to recall your dreams. If you wake up in the morning and can record vivid dreams this is a good (though not conclusive) sign.
The greatest (potentially most dangerous) exposure occurs when you use your phone next to your head. That’s why you should avoid making phone calls and holding the phone close when you are preparing for bed. If you must contact someone, use a landline.
Low level EMF exposures lead to symptoms
When you go to sleep, do not keep your cell phone in your bedroom. Taking your cell phone into the bedroom increases the probability that you will expose your self to cell phone radiation while you sleep or in the time immediately before sleep. In doing so you are essentially prolonging your low-level EMF exposure, which can cause symptoms over time.
The lighting on your phone is another reason why your phone may interfere with your sleep and impact your health. Smartphone screens emit blue light. These are the similar light waves emitted by the sun during the day.
When your eyes are exposed to blue light, your brain perceives that it is daytime, and time to be awake. So when you expose yourself to artificial blue light through using your cell phone at night, you are sending a message to your body that it is daytime and you should still be awake. This information doesn’t match up with the usual pattern of your circadian rhythm. The result is difficulty sleeping as your body tries to decipher confusing signals about whether it is time to wake up or sleep.
How to limit blue light exposure
You have a couple of options for limiting the effects of blue light exposure from your devices.
The best option is to stop using your cell phone at least two hours before you go to sleep. This gives your brain time to acknowledge that the day is over so that your body’s natural rhythms can prepare for a deep sleep.
The second option is to install a blue light blocking app on your device like f.lux. These apps shift light emissions further into the red end of the spectrum so that you are exposed to fewer blue light waves. That means you can potentially use your phone before bed with less effect on your sleep quality (careful though, the EMFs are still there).
Keep in mind that your eyes can sense blue light emissions even when your eyes are closed and while you are sleeping. That’s how you know that you need to “wake up” in the morning. Your brain senses the blue light waves from the sunlight. So, don’t leave your phone anywhere near where you are exposed to light emissions while you are sleeping!
Cell phone noise pollution
Another good reason to keep your phone out of your bedroom is the noise it emits. Many phones have settings to minimize these disturbances. But if you don’t think to adjust these settings every night, your screen may light up at night and you may hear notification sounds and vibrations, or receive phone calls or texts at night. These noises can not only reduce the quality of your sleep, they can literally wake you up. Another reason to put your phone on airplane mode at night AND keep it well away from your bedroom.
How sleep loss contributes to anxiety
It’s well known that anxiety can lead to sleep disorders. But it works the other way round too – sleep disturbances can lead to an anxiety disorder. In fact, those who chronically suffer from insomnia are a high-risk group for anxiety.
Research shows that not getting enough sleep increases worrying behavior. This happens because sleep deprivation activates regions of the brain related to emotional processing, the same regions affected by anxiety disorders. The effect is especially significant if you are already prone to worrying or already have an anxiety disorder.
More recent research links smart phone overuse to anxiety and depression, which can in turn result in sleep problems.
The good news is that treating your sleep problems can help you alleviate or reduce anxiety symptoms. It may be a lack of sleep that is causing you to feel panic. And if treating your sleep problems with the tips listed here doesn’t help, you may want to talk to a professional therapist about your anxiety and sleep issues.
Other negative effects of keeping devices in bed
Aside from EMFs and blue light exposures messing with your body’s natural hormone functions and rhythms, keeping a phone nearby at bedtime can also keep you up simply because you are distracted by sending messages, checking what’s happening on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, or playing games. Having these activities constantly available can be a big distraction.
These distractions keep us from doing what we should be doing in the bedroom, not just sleeping but having conversations with our nearest and dearest. Bedtime is an important time for partners to talk about their days with each other and have intimate discussions (or other bonding activities:). Playing on your phone when you could/should be doing intimate stuff can erode your relationship over time. And unhealthy relationships are often a cause of worsening anxiety symptoms.
If you’re experiencing anxiety it just makes sense to get the phone out of the bedroom and allow yourself to get better rest. It’s a simple change that can make a big difference in your overall physical and mental health.
Marie Miguel is a freelance writer for BetterHelp.
For more information on making your bedroom a safe sanctuary read this article.
A. N. Goldstein, S. M. Greer, J. M. Saletin, A. G. Harvey, J. B. Nitschke, M. P. Walker. Tired and Apprehensive: Anxiety Amplifies the Impact of Sleep Loss on Aversive Brain Anticipation. Journal of Neuroscience, 2013; 33 (26): 10607