Technology plays a massive role in all of our lives these days—morning, noon, and, somewhat unfortunately, night. Most of us have heard of at least some of the ways that tech devices can cause sleep issues. But thankfully, we can also use technology to help our sleep. Let’s walk through both.
How Technology Hinders Our Sleep
1. Dysregulation from blue light
The artificial blue light from the screens of our devices negatively impacts our body’s ability to regulate its sleep-wake cycles and produce the necessary amounts of melatonin—i.e. blue light makes it a lot harder for us to fall asleep, sleep well through the night, and stay on a consistent sleep schedule.
The screens on our technology devices emit blue light, which, like red light or ultraviolet (UV) light, is one of the many wavelengths of light on the spectrum. Some blue light is good for us. For instance, natural blue light during the day helps our body regulate its natural sleep/wake cycle. Too much blue light at night, however—especially artificial blue light from screens—can disrupt that regulation and cause a reduction in our body’s melatonin production and secretion, which your body typically produces more of at night in order to keep the sleep/wake cycle in its appropriate rhythm. So, playing video games or looking at any screens for hours on end—and especially at night—contributes to dysregulation, making it harder to fall asleep, sleep well, and keep a regular sleep schedule.
For most of us, technology and the things we use it for are stimulating—in a scientific sense, too. Using our devices at night actually keeps our brain stimulated and in some cases can overstimulate us. So, when we would normally be winding down, instead we end up keeping our brains too active to easily fall asleep.
3. Not listening to our internal clock
Similar to overstimulation, on a practical level, when we get sucked into our devices at night—through whatever game we’re playing, article we’re reading, show we’re watching, social media feed we’re perusing—we tend to push past our body’s natural cues that it’s time to sleep. We’ll just watch/read/play/like one more. But that becomes three or four or ten more really easily, which causes less and worse sleep more consistently and can lead to greater health issues if kept up.
How Technology Can Help
But it’s not all bad! There are certain ways you can use technology to your advantage to both help you break harmful patterns and create beneficial ones.
1. Blocking blue light
Yep, you read that right! Many devices that can cause issues because of artificial blue light have also built in the ability to turn that blue light off, essentially, by filtering it out at a certain time of day. Usually called something like “night shift” or “night mode,” you will typically find the setting under the display or brightness settings on your device. Additionally, there are apps, such as f.lux, which remove the “eerie blue glow” as day becomes night and matches the light on your computer to the light in your room.
2. Track sleep
Technology can also help you find out more details about your sleep patterns. Activity trackers, like Fitbit Charge, or apps, like Sleep Cycle, can help wearers and users track everything from what time they went to bed and what time they woke up to what time they actually fell asleep, if they woke up (knowingly or not) throughout the night, how much REM and non-REM sleep they got, and how many full cycles they completed. Knowing more about your patterns can help you set healthier ones if need be.
3. Wake at the end of your sleep cycle
As mentioned above, apps like Sleep Cycle can help you track your sleep. But along with tracking your sleep—and because of it—one of the app’s main functions is to wake you up at the lightest point in your sleep cycle. When we set alarm clocks without sleep trackers, it’s a little like shooting in the dark. Depending on how long it took you to fall asleep, your alarm might be set to go off at a time when you’ll still be in the middle of some deep, non-REM sleep—and waking up during that is not good, causing you to wake up groggy and tired no matter how many hours of sleep you got.
With apps like Sleep Cycle, you can set the time you’d like to be up by, along with an alarm window of something like 10-30 minutes. The app will then wake you up at the time within that window that you’re at the lightest point in your sleep cycle. Effectively, this helps you wake up at a more appropriate time for being awake and alert throughout the day.
4. White noise
Whether you live in a bustling city with street noise or have to work the night shift—or just need a little something to put you in the sleeping zone—plenty of people sleep better when they use white noise machines or apps. While you can find white noise machines out there, most phones and smart speakers also have white noise settings. Many of these offer a variety of sound options, like rain, thunderstorms, or plain static.
5. Meditation apps and exercises
Quite a bit has been studied, proven, written about, and shared widely on the positive effects meditation can have on many different areas of our lives. Sleep is one of those areas. Meditating, especially before bed, helps calm the mind, re-center your thoughts and your breath, and bring your brain to a quieter place, which all helps promote better sleep quality. Most of us need a little help with meditating, and thankfully, there are some great apps for that, such as Calm, Headspace, and Aura.
In short, technology can cause headaches in the sleep department (literally) if we’re not careful and let it govern our sleep patterns. However, there are so many ways we can use technology to our advantage for sleeping, too. It’s all about finding the right tools.
What technology do you use to help you sleep?