If you're having trouble sleeping at night, there could be many factors in play. Your stress levels during the day, churning on your to-do list for tomorrow, even the temperature of your room affects how easy it is to fall asleep and stay asleep.
A lot of people go through elaborate sleep-hacking routines without considering the most impactful one: phone habits before bed. Using your phone at night can absolutely wreck your sleep and cause you to slog through the whole next day.
You may feel that scrolling through your phone is a way to relax before you drift off, but it's quite the opposite. Phones are stimulating, and you may be having a series of low-level reactions to those stimuli without realizing it. So, while you're trying to relax and wind down, the phone is instead amping you up.
Here are a few ways your phone keeps you awake, even long after putting it on the charger for the night.
Blue light and sleep
The blue light wavelengths of light emitted from your phone screen are similar to the wavelengths your eyes sense in the morning. This tricks your brain into thinking it's still daytime, which could interfere with normal sleep hormone patterns. That makes it harder for you to fall asleep.
Try cutting out phone usage at least an hour before bed. Anything with a backlit screen, like a TV, tablet or bright e-reader will have a similar effect, so it's best to cut those, too.
If you have to be on your phone, you can dim your screen or use a nighttime filter, which blocks out some of the blue light wavelengths. Similarly, you can wear blue light blocking glasses to keep out the wavelengths that confuse your circadian rhythm. None of these methods are perfect though, and you could still react to the portion of blue light that's left.
Active mind at night
It takes your mind a while to wind down before bed. Scrolling through social media or checking emails can also increase stress and keep your mind active and racing, making it even more difficult to turn “off” at night.
These social media algorithms show you whatever they want to show you—negative news, troubling world events, an image of a person that you had an argument with earlier in the week, something that reminds you how behind you are on your work project—it's all fair game. Even if you think you're ignoring upsetting things by scrolling past, your body might be having a low-level reaction. It adds up.
The best approach? Put the phone away well before you start winding down for the night. Additionally, if your mind tends to race at night, keep a notebook next to your bed to “brain dump” everything that’s on your mind. Sometimes it helps to know it’s on paper, and you don’t have to keep knocking things around in your head.
Alerts and notifications
Every little ding and chime from your phone can derail your sleep. Turn off all alerts and notifications before bed so you can have a peaceful night's rest without constant interruptions.
Even if you think you can ignore notifications, responding to them all day means you're primed to react. You have to make the conscious decision to ignore it, every single time, which is an active process. It's harder for an active brain to slip into sleep mode than a resting brain.
Finding the right balance
Of course, it's not always feasible to completely disconnect from your devices before bed. Finding the right balance for yourself is key. Maybe that means setting aside certain times during the day to check emails, or limiting social media usage to certain times. Experiment and see what works best for you and your sleep schedule.
Don't forget about good sleep habits
In addition to managing your phone habits, remember to establish healthy sleep habits in general. This can include maintaining a regular bedtime routine, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and practicing relaxation techniques before bed.
If you continue to struggle with sleep despite making changes to your phone habits, it may be worth seeking help from a medical professional. They can provide additional tips and resources for improving your sleep.