How Tech Can Harm or Benefit Our Sleep Cycles

Human beings spend, on average, a third of our lives asleep. But our nightly routines could be hindering the amount of sleep we actually all get. Tech is pretty awful for our sleep schedules. Screens, blue light, phone usage. These are all huge factors that can threaten a good night’s sleep. So what can we do to make sure we’re getting the best sleep? How can tech actually benefit our bedtimes?

Before the modern age it was actually pretty common for people to wake up in the middle of the night and do simple tasks before returning back to bed. There wasn’t just sleep, there was a “first sleep” and a “second sleep” and people did things like smoke, pray or, like present day humans, go pee. With industry came noise and the Industrial Revolution made people long for the days when sleep was as easy as closing your eyes at the end of the day. Technology is sleep’s greatest enemy and just as the clanging of iron factories in the past kept people from snoozing today’s tech is inhibiting people to get a good night’s sleep.

If you’re having trouble sleeping lately, you’re not alone. A recent survey by the Smithsonian revealed that almost one-third of Americans sleep less than six hours a night. Your circadian rhythm keeps you on schedule. It’s why you wake up in the morning and go to bed in the evening and how your body allocates energy between both, making it pretty important to maintain. A biological clock. In the brain your hypothalamus helps control this rhythm. See, your brain creates a hormone called   which makes you feel drowsy. Typically, this hormone is produced during the evening and night time thanks to the absence of sunlight. Unless you live in Alaska between May and July, in which case maybe invest in some blackout curtains.

But when you are exposed to light your hypothalamus signals your pineal gland to stop producing melatonin, meaning you feel less drowsy, making it harder to go to sleep. The less melatonin in the brain, the rockier your sleep/wake cycle. And this is where our “pocket iron factories” or phones come in.

When we use our phones before bed we expose our eyes to light, reducing melatonin production in our brain. And it’s not just any light. It’s blue light. These blue light waves, on top of already helping to suppress melatonin production, can also cause digital eye strain. When you use screens, you blink much less than normal. An average person blinks about 15 times a minute but that can drop all the way down to only 5 times a minute when using a device. This leads to dried and strained eyes, blurry vision, and even headaches. And it’s not just your phone. Your television, tablet, desktop, laptop, pretty much everything you own with a screen can cause these effects. Using devices before bed can be super detrimental to your eye health, sleep schedule, and circadian rhythm. Just a few hours before bed can cause grogginess in the morning all thanks to less melatonin in your blood.

However, some tech does want to help us sleep. There are a plethora of sleep apps and websites dedicated to helping people around the world reach SnoozeVille. These apps claim to track your sleep by measuring things like snoring, body movement, sleep talking, and other habits. Then they use this information to help you foster better sleeping practices.