Part 2: Protect Your Sleep by Setting Down Your Screen
In Part 1 of our three-part series on phone use and mental health, we explored the issues of distraction, impaired concentration, and mental fatigue and offered strategies for balancing the use of our smartphones to positively support our mental health and overall well-being.
In the continuation of our series, we now focus on something many of us struggle with: sleep. And more specifically, the many ways that our phone use impacts the length, quality, and duration of our sleep.
The Healing Power of Sleep
In his book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, professor of
neuroscience and psychology Matthew Walker writes: “Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day."
Indeed, it’s been proven that sleep serves as a critical time for the brain to restore and rejuvenate, allowing for memory consolidation, emotional regulation, and neural repair. Getting adequate sleep also fosters cognitive function, emotional stability, and the ability to effectively manage stress. In short, sleep is vital to mental health functioning.
Sleep can be a stressful topic to engage with—many of us already know we need more of it (shoutout to all the parents, caregivers, and shift workers out there whose sleep deprivation is an inherent piece of your lived experience) and it can be anxiety-inducing to feel like you can’t control how much sleep you get.
That being said, it’s important to understand how our phone use contributes to poorer sleep and to empower ourselves with the knowledge of strategies we do have control over that can help support our mental health.
Here are a few ways phone use impacts sleep patterns and quality:
Sleep delay: Engaging with our phones before bedtime can delay the time we would naturally go to bed. The stimulating content, notifications, and engaging activities on our phones keep our minds active and alert, making it easier to miss our body’s natural cues when it’s time to rest.
Disrupted sleep patterns: Keeping our phones near us while sleeping can disrupt our sleep patterns. Incoming calls, text messages, or notifications can interrupt our sleep with sounds or vibrations, leading to fragmented and less restful sleep.
Blue light exposure: The blue light emitted by smartphone screens can interfere with our natural sleep-wake cycle. Exposure to blue light in the evening suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, which can lead to difficulty falling asleep and disrupted sleep patterns.
Mental stimulation: Engaging with stimulating content or participating in online conversations before bed keeps our minds active and alert, making it challenging to relax to let our bodies know it’s time for sleep. Essentially, the constant mental stimulation from our phones can make it harder to transition into a calm and restful state.
Anxiety and stress: Scrolling through social media or reading distressing news before bed (doom-scrolling, anyone?) can increase anxiety and stress levels, thus negatively impacting our ability to relax and fall asleep.
Establish Boundaries for Better Sleep
Because phones possess an addictive quality that easily captivates and consumes our attention, breaking phone habits is difficult…but very possible. Here are a few ways to mitigate the negative effects of phones on your sleep:
Establish a digital wind-down routine: Create a routine that includes disconnecting from your phone at least 30 minutes to an hour before bed (if that seems too long, just start with 5 minutes, then increase to 10, then 15, then 20). Engage in relaxing activities such as reading a book, practicing mindfulness or meditation, or taking a warm bath. Remember, self-care isn’t selfish.
Limit screen time before bed: Set boundaries on your phone usage before bed. Consider implementing a "no-phone" policy for a length of time before your desired bedtime. If you still find yourself reaching for your phone, create a phone-free sleeping environment instead by charging your phone in another room or using a dedicated alarm clock instead.
Enable night mode or use blue light filters: Most smartphones offer features like “Night Mode” or blue light filters that reduce the amount of blue light emitted. Use these settings to help minimize the impact of blue light on your sleep.
Establish a consistent sleep schedule overall: Maintain a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at consistent times (yes, even on weekends). This helps regulate your body's internal clock and promotes better sleep. Additionally, being aware of your “bedtime” can help you know when to schedule your wind-down or no-phone time.
Rest Well to Support Your Mental Health
You are worthy of being in touch with your body’s natural rhythms and prioritizing your basic need for sleep. Be kind and gentle to yourself, and make changes slowly. By choosing just one of the above strategies to implement in your life, you can minimize the phone’s negative impact on your slumber and create an environment that supports healthy and restorative sleep patterns.
If you are experiencing persistent sleep difficulties or mental health concerns, schedule a free consult call with a therapist at Her Time Therapy, LLC.
Her Time Therapy, LLC is an integrative group counseling practice based in Denver, Colorado comprised of highly trained mental health therapists who specialize in providing convenient and empowering online mental health counseling for women in Colorado.
Call/Text (720) 255-1667 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.hertimetherapy.com
About the Author
Lauren Veazey, MA, is a graduate student in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and the Intake Coordinator for Her Time Therapy, LLC, a group therapy practice specializing in teletherapy for women. As a therapist in training under the supervision of Her Time Therapy founder Meagan Clark, she believes in the healing power of therapy for women to love themselves, trust themselves, and know themselves.
*Disclosure: This post may contain ads and affiliate links that Her Time Therapy, LLC earns a small commission from when you make a purchase by clicking links on our site at no additional cost to you. We only recommend products we've used ourselves and would feel comfortable recommending to clients to improve their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.