Are Phone Screens Causing Insomnia?
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Menopausal insomnia is one of the most common symptoms in women; nearly 65 percent of women experiencing menopause over the age of 45 cite issues with insomnia and other sleep-related issues.
While stress, anxiety, poor diet, and exercise can be attributing factors to the increase of insomnia, there is one external factor that many women forget as a likely source: phone screens. The link between insomnia and the use of mobile devices before bedtime is one of the newest and most rapid research topics around the world.
How does something as seemingly harmless as watching a few cute animal videos before bed result in an increase of insomnia? Engaging in binge-viewing, binge-reading, and other types of long-form use of mobile devices disrupt the body's natural circadian rhythm. Taking longer to fall asleep can negatively impact your body's ability to stay asleep during the night, and your ability to wake up naturally in the morning.
The 3 Sleep Factors
The human body has an army of regulatory responses and systems to help the body fall asleep. That said, three primary factors have direct affects on the body as it prepares for sleep: the homeostatic factor, the endogenous circadian factor, and the behavioral factor.
- Homeostatic factor: Otherwise known as the factor that helps determine the average level of depth of sleep, duration of sleep, and the likelihood of waking.
- Endogenous Circadian factor: This is the factor that determines how the body reacts to the environment, i.e., sensitivity to light and darkness, sensitivity to sound, and sensitivity to temperature.
- Behavioral factor: This is the factor that has the most potential influence on the other two factors; it boils down to how the subject behaves in response to sleepiness.
When these factors are properly regulated, the body naturally falls into a regular sleep pattern. When one or more of these factors are negatively affected or aren't properly regulated, the chance of experiencing insomnia increases.
The Behavioral Factor
When it comes to factors that are based on behavior rather than chemical imbalances, insomnia can become even more of a challenge for individuals who are addicted to screen time before bed. The behavioral component of sleep regulation is based on how you respond to exhaustion and general sleepiness.
Human beings are creatures of habit, and if we gain a habit like watching an episode of a Netflix series just before bed, it becomes a challenge to break that habit. In order to alter the behavioral factor that affects sleep patterns, it's important to understand the power of behavioral conditioning.
Behavioral conditioning is the process of changing a certain behavior by introducing a new stimulus or eliminating an old one in order to acquire a desired behavior. In other words, if the desired behavior is to fall asleep quickly and peacefully, the distraction (i.e. your smartphone) must be removed.
This is not meant to suggest that people stop purchasing smartphones or throw out their other mobile devices. Instead, limit the amount of time you spend on your mobile devices before going to bed.
How can you limit your screen time?
Of the many things that can influence insomnia during the menopausal years, limiting screen-time in the evening is one of the easiest to cut out. There are a few things women can do to help minimize their insomnia and their screen-time.
Turn off your smartphone
While this may seem like a drastic measure to some, turning off your phone at night can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. There is strong scientific evidence that suggests the blue light that emits from smartphone screens decreases the production of melatonin, one of the hormones in the body responsible for helping us fall asleep. While many phones may come with blue light filters to attempt to diffuse it, it doesn't eliminate blue light entirely, making melatonin production slow and sleep more difficult to achieve. So, turning off your phone can actually help increase your melatonin production.
Plug your phone in on the other side of the room
Plugging in your phone on the other side of the room has two benefits. The first is that it stops you from checking your phone every five minutes while you try to sleep. The second is that it can help you wake up regularly. By setting the alarm on your phone and then placing it on the other side of the room, it forces you to get up to turn it off. Even the smallest amount of motion in the morning can help you wake up faster and less likely to feel groggy later in the day.
Set a stop time before bed
This one is particularly popular with parents who have young children, but it can be helpful to women in menopause too. If you usually go to bed around nine o'clock, set a time to stop using smartphones and other mobile devices at least thirty minutes before bed. Introducing this into a regular routine can help build the habit and make you less tempted to check your phone when you get into bed. It's suggested that people stop using their phones an hour before bed, giving the mind enough time to focus its attention on a different activity. Try filling up this time by engaging in other activities like reading, drawing, or any other repetitive activity to help you fall asleep faster.
Insomnia can seem like an impossible battle to win, but by eliminating distractions like smartphones and other mobile devices, you can improve your chances of getting a good night's sleep. For additional information on how smartphones may be impacting your sleep, take a quick look at these research studies for more information.