An alarm clock, pictures (actual photographs in a frame), a book and maybe even a glass of water. There was a time when these were the only items you could find on a nightstand next to a bed. Today, you find cellphones, tablets, headphones and chargers.
Our mobile devices have become such an important part of our daily lives that it's reached the point where it can be difficult to put them down or even be without them for extended periods of time. Bringing these devices into the bedroom is only worsening the problem because science says technology affects our sleep.
Sleep may seem like such a rudimentary concept, but it's important to realize that sleep plays a key role in promoting good health and overall well-being throughout life. Getting the proper amount of sleep can strengthen both our mental and physical health. In fact, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, adults ages 18 years or older should be getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep per day.
Our quality of sleep is equally as important. The way we feel when we're awake depends on what is happening while we sleep. Research suggests that using technology in the late evening when you should be sleeping is having negative effects on both the quantity/quality of sleep and keeping you from being the best "you" possible.
How smartphones and blue screens affect your sleep
Lots of surveys show that a large number of Americans have acknowledged using electronics at least a few nights a week and well within an hour before going to bed. These people are exposing their eyes to a stream of photons, which sends a message to the brain to stay awake. The brain responds to this message because the blue light that all cellphones, tablets, computers and televisions discharge prevents the production of melatonin. This is the hormone that controls your inner cycle and tells your body when to sleep and when to stay awake. A lack of melatonin makes it harder for you to fall asleep.
Then there's the dreaded 2 a.m. alerts. Yes, we've all had to deal with it at one point. Someone or something sends you a late-night email, text, or update and now you're right back where you started. Just because devices are not being used doesn't mean they can't be disruptive.
Children are probably a bigger cause for concern since they require more sleep -- about 9-12 hours a day in fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). An NSF survey suggests that 72% of kids ranging from ages 6 to 17 sleep with at least one electronic device in their bedroom. The quality of their sleep is important because they are in the early stages of their development. Not to mention the fact that they're in school and must get a good night's sleep if they are to perform at their level best. Children cannot afford to be sleep deprived at such a young age because of the unregulated technology and electronics that surround them.
How many hours do we need? According to National Sleep Foundation:
- Newborns: 14 to 17 hours
- Infants: 14 to 15 hours
- Toddlers 1-2: 11 to 14 hours
- Preschoolers 3-5: 10 to 13 hours
- School-age children 6-13: 9 to 11 hours
- Teenagers 14-17: 8 to 10 hours
- Young adults 18-25: 7 to 9 hours
- Adults 26-64: 7 to 9 hours
- Older adults 65+: 7 to 8 hours
Tips for getting better sleep
If you're truly committed to achieving mental/physical health and improving your quality of life, you must be willing to limit the amount of time you spend on these devices and prioritize sleep. It's recommended that you shut off the screens at a reasonable hour, say 9 p.m., and give yourself at least an hour before retiring to bed in order to ease the transition. To keep yourself from scratching the electronic itch, go the extra mile and keep your devices outside of the bedroom or at least out of your immediate proximity. These rules should go for your children as well. Parents should choose to lead by example and regulate their children's use of technology at night.