Using Your Phone Right Before Bed?

mobile sleep hygiene night scrolling
Do you also use your phone or computer before bed? You may be causing yourself some serious sleep problems! While using mobile phones and tablets right before bed is extremely common, it shouldn't be the case. These devices emit blue light, which interferes with our sleep. A study conducted by Global Pediatric Health showed that using devices during bedtime or after lights out can significantly reduce the quality of our sleep. 

But what is blue light? 

Blue light is a type of light that exists in the visible spectrum and has a shorter wavelength than other colours, therefore producing more energy. Devices such as phones, computers, and tablets use blue light because it is easier to see and less tiring on the eyes. Blue light tricks our brains into thinking it's daylight, making us more alert. When we use these devices at night, when we are supposed to enter rest mode, the blue light from these devices is fundamentally counterproductive.

Studies have found that blue light suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone responsible for regulating our body's circadian rhythm or internal clock that tells us when to sleep and wake up. Melatonin suppression can lead to difficulty falling asleep, disrupted sleep cycles, and decreased sleep quality. Worse, long-term exposure to blue light has been associated with severe health problems such as obesity and cardiovascular disease. Who would’ve thought that a bit of scrolling before bed could be harmful to our health?

Effects of device use before bed

Using devices such as mobile phones before sleep can increase stress levels, often because it keeps the mind occupied — making it harder for the body to relax and fall asleep. For example, when you log into social media, you may read some news or post that can be stressful. This will affect your regular sleep pattern.

Mental health problems
Studies have found a link between device use before sleep and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Device use can lead to overstimulation of the brain, which can trigger negative emotions, making it difficult for us to get restful sleep. Devices connect you to content that may be exciting or stressful, probing your brain to respond in an unhealthy way when the brain needs to be slowing down.

It can even peak your anxiety levels! Device use often keeps us up by distracting us from getting restful sleep, leading to irritability, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating the next day. For example, using your computer to try and complete assignments or plan for the next day's events, you may feel more anxious than if you had gone to bed earlier!

Impact on kids’ development
Whether it be Baby Shark or Peppa pig, children are exposed to device use from an extremely early age. If device use can severely impact an adult’s physical and mental health, its effect on children is a much more detrimental manner. According to the Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS), children cannot comprehend and process the information given to them in the same way an adult can, so exposing them to screens at an early age may not be beneficial as they can't process what they see on screen and apply it to real life. A study by Pediatric Child Health indicated that early exposure to screen time for children under 12 months shows delays in language, including language acquisition, cognitive development, and social-emotional behaviour. There's also a risk of kids missing out on face-to-face interactions.

At what age should children start using devices?

As parents, setting boundaries for device use and creating a healthy sleeping environment for children is crucial. As a rule of thumb, it is recommended that children should not be using devices before the age of 12, as exposure to blue light could disrupt their circadian rhythms and cause difficulty falling asleep. Here's how experts group children and their exposure to blue light-emitting devices:

Four to six years
Children in this age group shouldn't use screens for more than 1 hour per day, while those under two should not have any screen time.

Seven to nine years
Just like children in the lower age brackets, using mobile phones and other devices for more than 1 hour per day is not recommended. If parents want their children to have mobile phones when they are away, they should use flip phones with no social media to protect them from harmful content.

Ten to twelve years
In this age group, device use for up to two hours per day is generally considered okay — parents or guardians should supervise this use. Device use should also be limited around bedtime. Many studies show that children around this age are vulnerable to over-reliance on peer validation, leading to low self-esteem, depression, and other mental health issues, all of which can cause deep-seated problems.

While it's common for teens to have smartphones today, screen time should be limited to only two hours a day. In this age group, the instances of cyberbullying also rise extensively. Parents should stay in frequent touch with their children to supervise their device use and ensure it is not coming at the cost of their mental health as well as sleep.

Simply put:

Our phones are meant to add to our lives, not take away from it. Using devices before bed can harm our health and well-being, not just our sleep quality. Device use affects the body's circadian rhythm and increases stress levels, leading to various physical and mental health issues, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, anxiety, and depression. Parents should set boundaries for device use for different age groups and discuss the adverse effects of using devices before bed. Parents can also set an example by changing how they use their phones before bed to help their children become more aware of the issue. Protecting ourselves and our loved ones from the dangers of blue light and device use before bed is essential!
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