Put down the phone for better sleep, better health

Lisa Fisher, Health Promotion Specialist

In today’s world, the use of technology is constant and ever-evolving. It’s come to a point where people have been found to engage in addictive
behaviours with their smartphones, leading to the term “nomophobia” to be coined. Essentially it means “no mobile phone phobia” and it’s a recent term to describe the fear of not being able to use your cell phone or other smart device. It’s not just smartphones, however. We increasingly depend on our other electronics (e.g. computers, tablets, televisions, etc.) for entertainment, news and to provide us with an escape.

These electronic devices all have something in common: they emit blue light. This blue light has been shown to decrease the production of the hormone melatonin, which is vitally important to the proper functioning of your circadian rhythm, otherwise known as your 24-hour biological clock which regulates many internal functions, including sleep. When melatonin is decreased, it can be more difficult to fall and stay asleep. The light is also to blame for stimulating the sensors in your eyes, sending your brain signals that you should be awake and engaged. To function properly, your circadian rhythm requires natural environmental signals such as daylight and darkness to ensure you’re able to have an effective sleep.

One of the top tips provided to improve sleep quality and duration is to remove electronics from the bedroom. Many people use their smartphone for an alarm or like to have it close by in case there’s an emergency. If this is the case for you, switch your phone to the “blue light filter” setting. There are also programs that you can install on your computer and/or tablet which can reduce how much blue light is being emitted from the screen.

It’s important to keep in mind that electronics aren’t the only sources of blue light; it also comes from sunlight and white light. You want to ensure you get an adequate amount of blue light naturally from the sun during the day, as it does improve your performance and mood. When it’s time to wind down and get ready for bed, we want to be reducing that blue light to allow our body’s natural processes to adjust for sleep. Turning off all lights in your home 1-2 hours before bedtime is recommended; however, you can also change the lightbulbs in your lamp to red or orange, as they don’t emit blue light. When you have settled in to bed, keep your room completely dark or use a sleeping mask.

The Health Promotion Department is focusing on “Better Sleep for Better Health” for the month of May and are offering a briefing on sleep for interested personnel. If you’re interested in learning more, request your briefing today by contacting the Health Promotion team at 4WGHealthPromotion@forces.gc.ca or local 6958.

References

• Münch, M., Linhart, F., Borisuit, A., Jaeggi, S. M., & Scartezzini, J. L. (2012). Effects of prior light exposure on early evening performance, subjective sleepiness, and hormonal secretion. Behavioral Neuroscience, 125(1), 196-203.

• Sleep.org (n.d.). Three ways gadgets are keeping you awake. Retrieved from https://www.sleep.org/articles/ways-technology-affects-sleep/

• Vitaterna, M. H., Takahashi, J. S., & Turek, F. W. (n.d.). Overview of circadian rhythms. Retrieved from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh25-2/85-93.htm

• Yildirim, C., & Correia, A. (2015). Exploring the dimensions of nomophobia: Development and validation of a self-reported questionnaire. Computers in Human Behavior, 49, 130-137.