Switch off for a better night’s sleep

Published March 15, 2018

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Switch off for a better night’s sleep
People who spend thirty hours of weekly leisure time looking at a screen increase their chances of sleep problems by 2.5 times.1

As we recognise World Sleep Day on 16 March 2018, we talk to Dr Carmel Harrington, a sleep medicine expert from Australia, about our modern life and how it impacts our sleep patterns, and in turn, our overall health.

For centuries, human sleep patterns have been influenced by the sun and the moon lights. Without daylight there wasn’t much we could do, so, when it was dark, we slept.

Nowadays we have endless entertainment options that carry on throughout the night. From Netflix, to YouTube to catching up on work emails. While technology has increased our entertainment options, it’s also caused us to lose the discipline of sleep. All that screen time is affecting pillow time, with studies confirming a correlation between the number of screen hours and difficulty sleeping.2

With most people’s smartphone glued to their hands it’s no surprise that almost 80% of us take our phones to bed, resulting in difficulty falling asleep and insomnia.3 Repeated and prolonged use of media in bed can result in our beds and bedrooms losing their sleep-inducing power.3 Poor sleep quality doesn’t just impact tiredness levels, it can also predict illnesses such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression and anxiety.4,5

Technology penetrates so much of our lives that it’s hard to switch off. However, resetting the boundaries between the bedroom and the entertainment room is the key to improving our sleep – and what better time to make the change than on World Sleep Day? If you toss and turn into the early hours you don’t have to continue with sleepless nights. You can take steps to improve your slumber by understanding the science of sleep.

Our ability to achieve forty winks relies on the production of melatonin – the ‘sleep’ hormone. The blue light of your smart phone or laptop has been shown to suppress the production of melatonin and delay the circadian rhythm of sleep (your internal 24-hour body clock) – preventing you from falling asleep.1 However, it’s not just the blue light that can impact your sleep. The videos you watch and the articles you read arouse mental activity, and trigger the production of cortisol – the ‘awake’ hormone. Cortisol suppresses the production of melatonin which means the constant Facebook scrolling will be keeping you awake long after you log off.

Emma Reynolds, 26, is guilty of taking her smartphone to bed and her sleep suffers for it.

“It’s so easy for me to lose hours of valuable sleep every night,” she said. “I take my phone to bed to use it as an alarm clock but end up online shopping and scrolling through Instagram or Facebook. It’s hard to switch off, but I know I need to if I want to get a good night’s sleep.”

However, not all technology has a negative impact on sleep. In recent years the availability of wearable technology has helped people monitor the quality of their sleep in the comfort of their own homes. The information captured by wearables can empower people to make behavioural changes to help improve the quality of their sleep, such as banning laptops and smartphones in the bedroom.

Here are my top tips for a better night’s sleep:

1. Wake up at the same time every day.
2. Set an alarm one hour before bed time, switch off all technology, dim the lights and prepare for sleep.
3. Avoid eating a big meal or exercising within three hours of bed time.
4. Avoid caffeine after midday, particularly if you are older, as your body takes longer to metabolise it.
5. And remember – alcohol is a sleep stealer.

For more information, visit www.worldsleepday.org.


  1. Andersen, L & Garde, A. Sleep problems and computer use during work and leisure: Cross-sectional study among 7800 adults. Chronobiology International, (2014)32:10, 1367-1372
  2. O’Dene Lewis et al. The US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Family and Community Health 2017, 40 (3) 231-235
  3. Nesdal Fossum et al. The Association Between Use of Electronic Media in Bed Before Going to Sleep and Insomnia Symptoms, Daytime Sleepiness, Morningness, and Chronotype. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, (2013)12:5, 343-357
  4. Adams, S & Kisler, T. Sleep Quality as a Mediator Between Technology-Related Sleep Quality, Depression, and Anxiety. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, (2013) 16:1, 25-30
  5. Yong Liu, et al. Prevalence of Healthy Sleep Duration among Adults — United States, 2014, CDC MMWR, 2016 / 65(6);137–141 https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6506a1.htm

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