How a Smartphone affects your sleep?
What is the last thing you do before going to sleep? Reply to work emails? Scroll through social media feeds? Catch an episode of your favourite web series to relax your mind? We may trick our mind into believing that spending a few minutes on your phone just before sleeping is good for relaxing, especially after a long, tiring and stressful day at work, but the reality is that most of us are using our smartphones too close to bedtime, which is not good for sleep and mental health.
Well, smartphones can be a good tool to achieve all the benefits touted, but only when used constructively and in moderation – in reality we never truly log off. Addiction to smartphones and using them throughout the day and late-night negatively impact your life in a lot of ways. So what are the dangers of using your phone before bed, and what happens if you sleep with your phone?
The Impact of Smartphone Usage on Your Sleep
Smartphone addiction interferes with your work and relationships. It keeps you distracted, impacts learning and memory and most importantly it affects your sleep patterns - poor sleep, as we know, is an independent risk factor for many health problems. Smartphone use before sleep disrupts your sleep patterns, leading to poor sleep quality. Let’s see how it works.
1. Disrupts sleep-wake cycles
Overuse of smartphones, especially around your bedtime, partly affects sleep health as it just knocks off your normal sleep-wake cycle. It happens because smartphones emit blue light that disrupts your circadian rhythm. Your brain takes cues from external sources of light to regulate many biological processes including your sleep and melatonin production.
As the sun sets, your brain triggers the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps the body prepare for sleep. But that glowing screen means that your eyes are getting exposed to the blue light around bedtime. As a result, your brain doesn't get the much needed cue to make melatonin. Reduced melatonin production leads to difficulty in sleeping and causes daytime fatigue and irritability. Children are even more vulnerable to the effects of blue light.
2. Keeps your mind engaged
Checking and scrolling through your smartphone before bed stimulates your brain and keeps it active and engaged, whereas that is the time where your brain needs to shut down and relax. Getting caught up in this barrage of information so close to your sleep schedule interferes with your daily life and ability to sleep well.
3. Increases stress
Replying to urgent work emails at night and the urge to constantly check your phone for responses can add to stress, which is the last thing you need before going to bed. Too much connectivity, thanks to technological advances, is one of the leading causes of stress and anxiety in people's lives. The possibility that you can instantly reply or get an instant response has blurred the boundaries in the personal and professional space. It stretches a person's capacity to set meaningful boundaries that respect their privacy, accessibility and freedom.
In addition, social media addiction on its own is a huge source of stress and anxiety. Constant social comparison increases feelings of inadequacy and hurt, which is bad for self-esteem and overall satisfaction in life. It is ironic how overuse of “social media” increases the feelings of loneliness and isolation when it was designed to make people more “social and interactive”. The fear of not being connected or missing out on experiences is another way in which social media either triggers or magnifies the symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. This is called “Fear of Missing Out” or FOMO.
You can only imagine what you are exposing your brain to just as you are nearing bedtime. All these negative emotions increase stress, the number one enemy of getting a good night sleep.
4. Some content triggers strong emotions
When you are checking every notification or update in bed, you are bound to come across content that might spike your stress levels. How often have you come across content that was upsetting or stressful? Or something that made you super happy and excited? Either way it will leave you wide awake, getting into the way of healthy, restorative sleep that you need for good health. Did you know there is even a term that describes the habit of scrolling incessantly through negative news? It is called "doomscrolling" and known to affect your sleep, mental health and physical well-being.
5. Leads to pain, headache and muscle cramps
Non-stop scrolling through your smartphone causes muscle cramps, headache and chronic pain in hands, neck , back and shoulders. Chronic pain and muscle cramps affect the quality of your sleep, leaving you irritable and tired in the morning. Holding your phone for too long and making repetitive swiping motions can cause repetitive stress injury, leading to inflammation, pain, numbness and soreness in fingers, wrists and thumb. There is also research being conducted on the affect on vision, leading to strabismus (abnormal alignment of the eyes), from the use of smartphones.
Have you heard of the term "text claw"? Over texting and endless scrolling on your device can lead to cramping and numbness in your thumbs, fingers and wrist. This discomfort is described by a condition known as text claw. In some cases, this repetitive motion, often used in mobile gaming, scrolling, swiping and texting, cause so much stress in your joints, ligaments and tendons that it may result in painful health conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis and arthritis.
Overuse of smartphone causes bad posture, another reason why it is linked with neck, shoulder and back pain. You are more likely to move your neck forward, bend it down at an uncomfortable angle, slouch and hunch your shoulders when you are using your phone. Poor posture combined with poor eye focusing also causes eye strain, increasing your risk of getting migraines and headaches. 
Many studies have investigated the effects of cellphone use on the brain and the findings suggest that it impairs cognitive function. Smartphones distracts you, makes you less focused and interferes with your ability to learn new things and affects memory. 
When you limit your smartphone use, you open your life to a whole new world of possibilities. You not only sleep better, you make yourself more available to create meaningful relationships that make your life more fulfilling. Don’t let smartphones sabotage your sleep and get in your way of being happy, healthy and productive. It may not be easy, but taking small steps could help you break this vicious addiction and improve your sleep patterns and as a result your quality of life.
- Derakhshanrad et al. Neck pain associated with smartphone overuse: cross-sectional report of a cohort study among office workers. Eur Spine J. 2021
- Demir et al. Effects of smartphone overuse on headache, sleep and quality of life in migraine patients. Neurosciences (Riyadh). 2019.
- CT Tanil. Mobile phones: The effect of its presence on learning and memory. PLoS One. 2020