What Nighttime Phone Use Does to Your Brain.

What Nighttime Phone Use Does to Your Brain.

Is there a connection between phone usage and sleep quality? Definitely.

Tossing, turning, and scrolling through social media while bundled up in bed has become a sort of vice in the modern world—a nightly cycle many of us can relate to. But is there a connection between phone usage and sleep quality? And how does it impact the brain? We investigate the effects this habit has on wellness.

It’s scientifically proven: The body knows us better than we do—especially when it comes to unwinding and recharging at bedtime. The brain takes everything that comes with late evenings (i.e. the lack of sunlight) as a sign to finally get under the covers and clock in some much-needed sleep. 

But, the follow-through is not always that seamless.

Side Effects of Using Your Phone at Night

Seeing as most people have smartphones, unplugging at bedtime—cold turkey, for that matter—seems an almost impossible task. It’s tempting to bring your phone with you, to start scrolling through your various feeds, share memes with friends, or search random fun facts on Google. You do it for entertainment, in hopes it will bring you calm after a particularly stressful day. In reality, it’s doing the opposite. It’s vital to remember: Screentime stimulates, rather than destresses.

In short, it may actually be doing more harm than good.

“The light from our screens can delay our transition to sleep, even if we are engaged in some soothing activity online,” explains Joanna Cooper, M.D., a neurologist and sleep medicine specialist with the Sutter East Bay Medical Foundation. “The timing of sleep and wakefulness is controlled by two areas in the brain. One is highly sensitive to light and drives wakefulness, while the other, called the pineal gland, secretes the sleep hormone melatonin when the light dims in the evening.” 

When the brain is subjected to incessant stimulation, it goes into fight-or-flight mode. Cortisol, a stress hormone, is released, and the production of melatonin, a hormone that controls the sleep-wake cycle and is created in response to darkness, is suppressed. It’s the opposite of what we need to achieve a restful night’s sleep.

Less Technology, More Happiness

But technology’s influence goes beyond sleep quality. A 2018 study took a closer look at whether or not the use of phones in the bedroom can impact happiness and well-being. Published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior and authored by Nicola Hughes of the University of East London, the study called for half of the participants to temporarily abstain from using their phones in the bedroom. The other half of participants were allowed to carry on as usual, serving as the control group.

At the end of the study, Hughes found that those who limited their in-bed phone use felt their quality of life improve after one week. They also shared with researchers that keeping their phones out of their bedrooms notably improved their sleep, their relationships, and reduced their anxiety. 

How Long Before Bed Should You Stop Using Your Phone?

According to The National Sleep Foundation, optimal sleep quality is achieved when electronics are put down 30 minutes before bedtime. Why? Your brain thinks the blue light that emits from your phone screen is sunlight, causing it to delay sleep. Implementing a “no phone before bed” rule for yourself will help keep your sleep patterns regular and your sleep quality enviable. Yep, it really is as easy as saying goodbye to nighttime scrolling.

How to Stop Using Your Phone at Night

As previously mentioned, screentime is a stimulator. A simple way to combat this? Treat your bedroom like a sanctuary and keep your phone in a separate room, far from reach, when bedtime approaches. Or opt for a book and a cup of hot tea if you’re looking to elevate your bedtime ritual—without all the late-night meme-sharing. The result: a happier, healthier, more energized you.