Technology Use Before Bedtime Affects Sleep and Mental Health

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Nearly two-thirds of Americans claim they don’t get enough sleep according to a 2011 National Sleep Foundation poll, and their use of technology before bedtime may be the reason they’re losing sleep. Dr. Dan Naim of Los Angeles Sleep Study Institute said new research has shown that the use of cell phones and computers before bedtime has a negative impact on sleep, stress levels and mental health.

Regularly using a computer late at night is associated not only with sleep disorders but also with stress and depressive symptoms in both men and women

Trouble sleeping? If the answer is “yes,” then using a cell phone or computer at night may be to blame. Research from the University of Gothenburg's Sahlgrenska Academy examined how young adults used technology at nighttime and what effect it had on their mental health. Released in March, the four studies revealed that excessive use of these information and communication technologies was connected to stress levels, sleep disorders and symptoms of depression.

The studies included self-reported questionnaires and interviews of 4100 men and women between the ages of 20 and 24. Researched determined that those who intensively used cell phones and computers at nighttime were at greater risk for sleep deprivation and depression.

“Regularly using a computer late at night is associated not only with sleep disorders but also with stress and depressive symptoms in both men and women,” said lead researcher Sara Thomée, a doctoral student. “Those who find the constant accessibility via cell phones to be stressful are most likely to report mental symptoms.”

The National Sleep Foundation reported in 2011 that 95 percent of those surveyed said they used some type of electronics at least a few nights a week within the hour before bedtime. Research shows that interactive technologies such as video games, cell phones and the internet might affect the brain differently than those which are “passively received” such as TV and music. Australian researcher Michael Gradisar of Flinders Unviersity said in a statement that these activities are “alerting” and can cause anxiety.

Cell phones and computers can interfere with sleep because the screens are so bright they inhibit the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, which is produced in dark surroundings, said Dr. Dan Naim of the Los Angeles Sleep Study Institute. Dr. Naim recommended limiting the excessive use of screens at night.

“While most of us need to use cell phones and computers, it’s best to keep these distractions to a minimum at night, when we’re supposed to wind down and prepare for sleep,” said Dr. Naim. “Keeping a cell phone by your bed at night may not be the best way to ensure a good night’s rest and could lower your productivity the next day.”

“Exposure to bright lights during the daytime is energizing and promotes circadian rhythm, or the sleep/wake cycle,” Dr. Naim said. “Dimming the lights at bedtime is also beneficial for relaxation, and by setting a “technology curfew,” bright lights from screens can be avoided.”

Young people should learn how to use technology in a healthier way, Thomée said, and public health advice should include this information.

“This means taking breaks, taking time to recover after intensive use, and putting limits on your availability,” Thomée explained.

To read the abstract of the study “Information and Communication Technology use and mental health in young adults,” visit

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