Watching videos, TV or surfing the internet before bed won’t hurt your sleep…as long as you stick to less than an hour of screen time, experts say
- Screen use at bedtime isn’t as bad for us as previously thought, new US study finds
- Experts asked 58 adults to attach sensors to their heads to see how well they slept
- Those who used the media for just an hour before sleeping had no negative effects
- But people who top an hour slept less overall at night, study finds
For years we’ve been warned that staring at glowing TVs, phones and tablets before bed could interfere with our sleep.
But a new study suggests nighttime tech use isn’t as bad for a restful night’s sleep as feared.
That’s as long as you stick to looking at one device and using it for less than an hour before closing your eyes, experts say.
Researchers at the University of Delaware asked 58 people to keep a three-day diary of their media use, detailing exactly what they watched or listened to, for how long and where.
All of the volunteers slept with a small device strapped to their foreheads to measure electrical activity in their brains. This allowed scientists to capture data on the quality and duration of their sleep.
People who looked at screens for an hour or less before sleeping, and while in bed, generally fell asleep earlier and slept longer.
New research suggests that using a screen at bedtime shouldn’t negatively impact your sleep as long as you stick to less than an hour of tech use before bed.
But they found that people who spent more than an hour of media activity before sleeping, or multitasking, had later bedtimes and less sleep overall.
However, the researchers did not provide detailed figures on how much more or less sleep the participants got based on their media habits.
Lead researcher Professor Morgan Ellithorpe claimed the results were proof that using the technology before bed would not disrupt sleep.
“If you’re going to use media, like watching TV or listening to music, before bed, keep the session short and focused and you’re unlikely to experience any negative results in your sleep that night,” said she declared.
The average age of the participants used in the study, published in the sleep research journalwas 26 years old. Three quarters were women.
More than 40% of participants used media an hour before bed on at least one of three nights, the researchers said.
The authors acknowledged that all participants were studied during the week, meaning the relationship between media use and weekend sleep is unknown.
The researchers also did not compare the effect of not using media before sleep with those who used technology before bed.
The NHS advises people to avoid using smartphones, tablets or other electronic devices an hour before bed, as light from screens can negatively impact your sleep.
This is due to the bright light used by the devices, particularly ‘blue’ light which suppresses the body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that encourages us to sleep.
Regularly poor sleep can contribute to medical conditions such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, as well as generally shortening life expectancy.
NHS bosses say adults should get between six and nine hours of sleep each night.
Around a third of Britons and Americans are thought to struggle to get enough sleep.
Professor Pete Etchells, a psychology expert from the University of Bath Spa, said the study demonstrated the complex nature of the impact of technology on sleep beyond the simple assumption that it was totally disruptive .
“The take-home message here is that the relationship between screen media use and sleep isn’t simple, and we’re only just beginning to understand it,” he said.
“This study is a good first step on that journey.”
How to Get a Restful Night’s Sleep
The NHS advises several ways people can use to try and improve their chances of getting a good night’s sleep.
Sleep at regular times
Keep regular sleeping hours. This programs the brain and the internal biological clock to get used to a set routine.
Most adults need six to nine hours of sleep each night. By determining what time you need to wake up, you can set a regular bedtime schedule.
It’s also important to try to wake up at the same time every day. While it might seem like a good idea to try to catch up on sleep after a bad night’s sleep, doing it regularly can also disrupt your sleep routine.
Be sure to relax
Relaxation is a critical step in preparing for bed. There are many ways to relax such as:
A hot bath
- Write down a to-do list for the next day to reassure yourself
- Relaxation exercises such as light yoga
- Relaxation audio with a carefully narrated storyline, gentle hypnotic music and sound effects to relax you
- Reading a book or listening to the radio or a podcast relaxes the mind by distracting it
- Avoid using smartphones, tablets or other electronic devices for about an hour before going to bed, as the light from the screens of these devices can have a negative effect on sleep.
Make your bedroom conducive to sleep
Experts say there is a strong association in people’s minds between sleep and the bedroom.
However, certain things weaken this association, such as televisions and other electronic gadgets, light, noise, and a bad mattress or bed.
Keep your bedroom just for sleep and sex (or masturbation). Unlike most vigorous physical activity, sex makes us sleepy. This has evolved in humans over thousands of years.
Ideally, your bedroom should be dark, quiet, tidy and kept at a temperature between 18°C and 24°C.
Install thick curtains if you don’t have them. If you are bothered by noise, consider investing in double glazing or, for a cheaper option, use earplugs.
Keep a sleep diary
It may be a good idea to keep a sleep diary. It may reveal lifestyle habits or daily activities that are contributing to your insomnia.
If you see your GP or sleep specialist, they will probably ask you to keep a sleep diary to help diagnose your sleep problems.
A sleep diary can also reveal underlying conditions that explain your insomnia, such as stress or taking medication.