Late-night messaging is ruining your sleep

Save the emojis for the morning

You get changed, jump into bed, and turn off the lights. You’re ready to recharge with a good sleep. However, no bedtime is complete without staring at your smartphone for hours on end. Sound familiar? If so, you might be interested to know that the blue glow from your smartphone is messing with your sleep.

When it comes to bedtime smartphone usage, many studies focus on young students because of anecdotal reports that school performance has been affected. Xue Ming, professor of neuroscience and neurology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, has published a study revealing a link between late-night instant messaging and sleep health. Ming surveyed 1,537 students to investigate the effect of late-night instant messaging on their grades. The students that turned off their devices performed better in school than the students who kept texting for over 30 minutes after the lights went out. Remaining on your phone for over 30 minutes after the lights turns out seem to affect the quality of your sleep. Girls spent more time on their phones overall than boys yet had better grades possibly because most of their activity was before the lights went out.

A pitch black environment is not ideal for viewing the typical blue light given off by our devices. The typical blue glow from our screens affects our circadian rhythm and can delay melatonin production. We end up falling asleep much later than we should but wake up at the usual time. Fewer sleep cycles throughout the night means fewer periods of REM sleep, which can affect performance in learning and memory tasks the following day. These studies may come at an important time as reports reveal children are adopting smartphones and tablets faster than ever. Research agency Childwise reported that this is the first year UK children have spent more time online than watching TV. UK children watch Netflix more than BBC1 or ITV.

With all of us using smartphones and tablets more than ever before, we need to be aware of the negative effects and what measures can be taken to reduce them. The simplest fix is to stop using your devices after you turn the lights out. Get everything done, hit the lights, and get some sleep. I’ve tried that and I’ve failed. Friends are messaging me. There are emails I didn’t check earlier. Then I can’t sleep anyway so why not browse Twitter for a while? If you are going online late at night, software is another way to improve your the quality of your sleep. I’ve tried a few solutions and the best I’ve found is f.lux, which is available for Windows, OSX, Linux, and iOS (via Cydia). The software uses your location to calculate the light levels outside and gradually changes your screen’s hue and brightness as the night progresses. I’ve found it definitely improves my sleep when using my laptop. Apple is copying the features of f.lux for their latest iOS update.

It seems we’re adopting technology faster than we’re able to realise the effects it has on our biology. Hopefully new devices will adapt to changing light levels to mitigate the effects of blue light in the darkness. I feel it’s much easier for us to change our technology than change our habits.


Main image © iStock/manez