How Does Technology Affect Sleep in Teens and Adults?

June 18, 2024 • Devin Partida

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Have you ever wondered how does technology affect sleep, especially when you’re glued to screens day and night? Sleep is crucial for your health and well-being. It’s the body’s way to recharge, consolidate memories and repair itself. However, integrating technology into nearly every aspect of daily life potentially disrupts natural sleep patterns.

Excessive screen time, especially before bed, can interfere with the body’s internal clock. It makes it harder to fall asleep and potentially diminishes the quality of sleep you manage to get. Likewise, it can leave you feeling less refreshed, possibly impacting your health.

The Role of Technology in Daily Lives

In the U.S., there are about 331 million internet users, a testament to how integrated technology has become in people’s lives. As a teen or adult, you likely interact daily with devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and TVs, often up until bedtime. These gadgets have become central to how people unwind, socialize and manage their tasks late into the night. 

However, this habit of scrolling through social media, catching up on emails or binge-watching series can disrupt your sleep schedule. The light from screens can trick your brain into thinking it’s still daytime, making it harder for you to fall asleep. It can potentially affect how well-rested you feel the next day.

What Is Sleep Science?

Understanding your sleep cycles is crucial to appreciating how vital sleep is to your well-being. Your night consists of several cycles, including non-REM and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep stages.

Non-REM sleep kicks off your sleep cycle, deepening gradually and helping your body to repair itself. Meanwhile, REM sleep — where most dreaming occurs — is crucial in memory and mood regulation. Quality sleep, encompassing adequate cycles of non-REM and REM stages, is essential for your physical health, mood and cognitive functions.

When you get enough deep sleep, you wake up feeling refreshed. Similarly, your mind is sharper and your emotions are more balanced. So, think about this connection the next time you consider putting off bedtime to watch one more episode or scroll through your phone.

How Does Technology Affect Sleep?

The blue light from screens is notorious for impacting your sleep, particularly its effect on melatonin, the sleep hormone. This light tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daylight, suppressing melatonin production and making it harder for you to fall asleep.

If you’re using your phone or watching TV until bedtime, you’re likely delaying your body’s natural sleep signals. Plus, there’s the phenomenon of doomscrolling, where you continuously scroll through bad news or engaging content. It can disrupt your sleep patterns and deteriorate the quality of your sleep.

Further, the stimulation from engaging with digital content sends signals to your brain that keep it on high alert, making it difficult to wind down. Whether a thrilling game or a dramatic movie, this stimulation can prevent your brain from entering the relaxation phase needed for sleep.

Other factors like notifications — which can occur at any hour — and the ongoing temptation to stay connected can contribute to a poor sleep environment. Consider how you might minimize these disruptions and prioritize a bedtime routine that prepares you for a good night’s sleep.

The Role of Social Media and Gaming

Social media platforms and online gaming are prime culprits in extending your screen time well in the night. In fact, 54% of teens admit it would be tough to give them up. These activities can impact your sleep due to the psychological effects they induce. Additionally, interacting on social media or immersing in the virtual challenges of games heightens your mental arousal.

This stimulation makes your brain active and alert, pushing back the onset of sleep as you become engrossed in conversations, games and the endless cycle of scrolling. This increased arousal can delay drowsiness and affect your sleep quality. It leaves you feeling less rested in the morning.

The Impact of Remote Work and Learning on Sleep

The shift to remote work and e-learning has blurred the boundaries between your professional or academic responsibilities and personal time, often affecting sleep patterns. Sticking to a regular sleep schedule is challenging when your home doubles as your office or classroom. Seeing your work or study setup from bed can remind you of unfinished tasks and trigger stress, making it harder to relax and fall asleep.

Here are a few tips to combat this hurdle:

  • Create a distinct separation between your productivity spaces and relaxation areas.
  • Designate specific zones for work and study, preferably away from where you sleep.
  • If space is limited, consider using room dividers or rearranging furniture to separate these areas visually.
  • Shut down your devices and store them out of sight. It helps signal your brain that it’s time to wind down, shifting from work mode to relaxation and sleep.

Comparing Teens and Adults

Teens and adults have different sleep needs, with teens requiring more sleep due to their developmental stages. Meanwhile, adults generally need seven to nine hours per night. In 2020, over 14% of American adults reported having trouble falling asleep. Stress and lifestyle choices — including technology use — exacerbated this problem,

Your susceptibility to technology disruptions can vary significantly between these age groups. Teens are often more engaged with social media and online gaming. They might find disconnecting particularly challenging, affecting their sleep onset and quality.

Meanwhile, social media have less of an impact on adults. However, they are more likely to bring work-related technology into the bedroom, disrupting sleep. Recognizing these differences can help you tailor your nighttime technology habits to support your specific sleep needs better.

Practical Tips to Mitigate Technology’s Impact

To improve your sleep quality, consider implementing a few tech-related habits as part of your nightly routine: 

  • Establish a digital curfew: Set a rule to turn off all digital devices at least an hour before bedtime. It helps signal to your body that it’s time to wind down, making it easier to fall asleep.
  • Activate night mode: Use the night mode feature on your smartphones, tablets and computers in the evenings. This setting reduces blue light exposure, interfering with melatonin production and disrupting your sleep cycle.
  • Create a bedtime routine: Develop one that consciously limits technology use. It could include reading a book, meditating or doing gentle stretches. Establishing such habits helps your mind associate these activities with sleep. It eases the transition from wakefulness to sleep.

These practices can enhance your sleep environment, making it more conducive to restful, undisturbed sleep.

Taking Charge of Your Sleep Health

Taking proactive steps to minimize technology’s impact on your sleep is crucial for maintaining good sleep health. Try incorporating the suggested changes into your nightly routine and observe how they improve your sleep quality and well-being.

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