How Screen Time Before Bed Impacts Sleep Quality

How Screen Time Before Bed Impacts Sleep Quality
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Published Michael Goodwin ⋅ Review Editor
October 30, 2023

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Effects of Screen Time Before Bed on Sleep Quality

Impact on Melatonin Production

Electronic devices with screens before bedtime can harm sleep quality by affecting melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles and is influenced by light exposure [1]. The screens of electronic devices emit blue light, which has a wavelength that can suppress melatonin production [2]. As a result, this may lead to a decrease in sleep quality. Blue light exposure in the evening, particularly from screens, can affect the timing and intensity of melatonin production, altering the natural rhythm of the body’s sleep cycle [3]. Disrupted melatonin production can result in insufficient sleep, poor subjective sleep quality, and increased sleep disturbances [4].

Disruption of Circadian Rhythm

Circadian rhythms are the natural processes that occur in the body over 24 hours, such as sleep-wake cycles, body temperature fluctuations, and hormone releases [5]. Exposure to blue light from screens before bedtime may disrupt these rhythms, leading to adverse effects on sleep quality.

The influence of screen exposure on circadian rhythms has been observed in the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Health Index, which found that people who used electronic devices before bedtime experienced lower sleep quality [6]. This suggests that the interference of blue light on circadian rhythms may contribute to the reported sleep disturbances. To maintain a healthy circadian rhythm and improve sleep quality, it is essential to control the amount and timing of light exposure. Reducing screen time before bed and creating a relaxing bedtime routine can have a positive impact on sleep quality [7].

Screen Time and Sleep Duration

Delayed Sleep Onset

Excessive screen time before bedtime can lead to delayed sleep onset, as the blue light emitted from screens suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin production. Studies have shown that one hour of light exposure from screens can suppress melatonin production by 23%, while two hours can stop it by 38%. This decrease in melatonin results in a longer time to fall asleep, known as sleep latency or sleep onset latency, contributing to reduced sleep duration.

Reduced Total Sleep Time

The use of screens at bedtime has been shown to impact total sleep time. People who engage with electronic devices, such as phones, tablets, or computers, in bed before sleep score lower on measures of sleep quality compared to those who do not. Reduced total sleep time can lead to a higher risk of insomnia and other sleep-related issues, highlighting the importance of curbing screen time in the bedroom.

Daytime Sleepiness

Poor sleep quality and reduced sleep duration resulting from bedtime screen time can lead to daytime sleepiness. Excessive daytime sleepiness, or the feeling of being tired even after a whole night’s rest, occurs due to disrupted natural sleep patterns and compromised sleep quality. This can negatively impact daily activities, productivity levels, and overall well-being. Limiting screen time before bedtime is a crucial measure to help improve sleep quality, mitigate delayed sleep onset, increase total sleep time, and reduce daytime sleepiness. Developing an electronic-free bedtime routine, as well as controlling screen exposure, can significantly contribute to healthy sleep patterns and general well-being.

The Role of the Sleep Environment and Routine

A proper sleep environment and routine are essential for a good night’s sleep. This section will discuss the importance of sleep hygiene and how screen time can affect the bedroom environment.

Developing a Healthy Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene refers to the habits and practices that support a good night’s sleep. To maintain healthy sleep hygiene, it is essential to create a sleep-friendly environment and routine. Some factors that contribute to well-maintained sleep hygiene include:

  • Mattress: A comfortable and supportive mattress is crucial for a good night’s rest.
  • Mood: Incorporating activities that help manage stress and maintain emotional well-being, such as regular exercise and winding down before bed, can significantly improve sleep quality.
  • Room lighting: Natural light during the day and dim lighting in the evenings help regulate the body’s internal clock, making it easier to fall asleep at night. Incorporating consistent habits and a regular sleep schedule can also strengthen one’s sleep hygiene, allowing the body to maintain a regular sleep-wake cycle.

Screen Use and the Bedroom Environment

Using screens in the bedroom can negatively affect sleep quality. Research suggests that using a screen an hour or two before bedtime can suppress melatonin production, increase the time it takes to fall asleep and reduce the amount of deep sleep. Moreover, screen use in the bedroom can have broader effects on a person’s sleep environment. For example, screens emit artificial light, interfering with the body’s natural circadian rhythm. When exposed to artificial light before bed, it becomes more difficult for an individual to fall asleep and achieve restorative sleep. In addition to light pollution, using screens in the bedroom can disrupt sleep routines and impact overall sleep hygiene.

To mitigate the effects of screen time on sleep quality, it is vital to establish boundaries between screen use and sleep. This might involve creating a designated area for electronic devices outside the bedroom or setting a specific time to turn off screens in the evening. By fostering a screen-free bedroom environment and prioritising healthy sleep habits, individuals can improve their sleep quality and overall well-being.

Screen Time Impact on Adolescents and Children

Behaviour and Mental Health Effects

Increased screen time before bed has been linked to various behavioural and mental health issues in children and adolescents. According to a study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, exposure to screens, such as computers, smartphones, tablets, and TVs, negatively impacts the sleep-wake cycle in teenagers. This can lead to disorders such as insomnia and further contribute to the development of depression and anxiety.

Aside from sleep problems, excessive screen time can affect family dynamics. It has been recommended that families should negotiate screen time limits with their children. Setting boundaries and encouraging physical and social activities can help prevent the displacement of essential aspects of a child’s life and promote a more balanced lifestyle.

Effects on Physical Health

One of the most prominent physical health effects of excessive screen time before bed is obesity. Several studies have reported significant negative impacts on sleep outcomes resulting from TV watching, smartphone usage, and the mere presence of a screen in the bedroom. Reduced sleep quality can lead to increased body mass index (BMI) and a higher risk of obesity in children and adolescents.

Moreover, excessive screen time has been linked to decreased physical activity. Encouraging children to participate in outdoor and physical activities can help mitigate the adverse effects of extended screen exposure on their well-being. Parents and caregivers need to be mindful of the potential consequences of allowing excessive screen time, especially before bed. Placing reasonable limits on using devices such as e-readers, laptops, and mobile phones can significantly improve the overall physical and mental health of children and adolescents.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does using electronic devices impact sleep in children?

Yes, using electronic devices close to bedtime can impact sleep in children. Exposure to screens, such as phones, tablets, or computers, can interfere with children’s sleep patterns and reduce overall sleep quality. Parents must establish boundaries around screen time, especially before bedtime, to promote healthy sleep habits in their children.

What are the effects of mobile phone usage before bedtime?

Mobile phone usage before bedtime can lead to disrupted sleep and lower sleep quality. The blue light emitted from phone screens can suppress melatonin production, the hormone responsible for sleep regulation. This can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. Additionally, engaging with the content on mobile phones can be mentally stimulating, making it harder to relax and drift off to sleep.

When should electronic devices be turned off before sleeping?

It is recommended to put away electronic devices at least 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime. This allows the body and mind to unwind and prepare for sleep. Creating a relaxing pre-sleep routine free from screens can help signal the body that it is time for bed and promote a more restful night’s sleep.

What are the side effects of using phones at night?

Using phones at night can lead to several side effects, such as difficulty falling asleep, reduced sleep quality, and sleep disruption. In the long term, these sleep disturbances can contribute to physical and mental health problems, including obesity, heart disease, anxiety, and depression. Moreover, the blue light emitted by phone screens can cause digital eye strain, leading to symptoms such as dry eyes, headaches, and blurred vision.

Can increased screen time contribute to insomnia?

Yes, increased screen time, particularly in the evening, can contribute to the development of insomnia or exacerbate existing sleep problems. The blue light emitted by screens can interfere with the body’s natural circadian rhythm, making it difficult to fall asleep and maintain deep sleep throughout the night. If you’re struggling with insomnia or other sleep disturbances, it is essential to evaluate your screen time habits and consider reducing your screen exposure, especially before bedtime.

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