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How Our Phone Habits Are Affecting Our Sleep & What We Can Do About It

"Many measures of adolescent mental health began to deteriorate sometime around 2009. It is true of the number of U.S. high-school students who say they feel persistently sad or hopeless. It’s also true of reported loneliness. And it is true of emergency room visits for self-harm among Americans ages 10 to 19.This timing is suspicious because internet use among adolescents was also starting to soar during the same period. Apple began selling the iPhone in 2007. Facebook opened itself for general use in late 2006, and one-third of Americans were using it by 2009."

This is an excerpt from an excellent article in the New York Times, titled "On the Phone, Alone". The New York Times also ran a recent series on adolescent mental health, and the latest piece focused on pediatricians who are struggling to help. To read up on it, click HERE.

The article I cited came to me by way of email, and the email subject was "Less Sleep, Less Happiness", and while this crisis is affecting adolescents by alarming numbers, in actuality, it's affecting all of us and we are headed in the wrong direction. In fact, did you know: "Today, 40% of Americans are chronically sleep deprived, getting less than 7 hours of sleep each night. The amount of sleep we get has dropped 20% in 100 years". These are the words of Charles Czeisler who teaches at Harvard Medical School and advises everyone from the Boston Red Sox to the U.S. Secret Service.

So why is getting less sleep a problem? According to Roxanne Prichard, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of Minneapolis, when we are chronically sleep deprived, these things occur:

  • The body shifts into the sympathetic nervous system zone--thinking your body is in an emergency --and so your body makes physiological changes to prepare for the emergency. Therefore, we stay in fight or flight and our cortisol levels stay high.

  • Raised blood pressure/increased heart rate

  • Mental, physical and emotional exhaustion

  • Mood disorder/anxiety/depressionPoor memory/less creativity

  • Increase in sugar cravings

  • Lack of focus/attention (specifically for children, they become hyperactive and are unable to pay attention)

  • Less efficient

  • Irrational and irritable

  • Increased risk of obesity

  • Increased risk in injury

Johann Hari, author of Stolen Focus, asks (and so do I): how do we solve this sleep crisis? There are multiple answers to this loaded question, but per Charles, he says to "radically limit your exposure to artificial light before you go to sleep and avoid blue screens for at least two hours before." Along those same lines, Roxanne suggests "we must have a different relationship with our phones." She urges that our phones should always recharge overnight in a different room, where you can't see it or hear it. Sounds like we need to go way back in time and pull out that alarm clock, or grab one for $10 at CVS. I've made this change and I love it!

I know I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. I know we all know the benefits of good/high quality sleep and that our phone habits have absolutely impacted our sleep. This is why I encourage you to be aware of how and when you are using your phone, especially prior to going to bed. In addition, before going to bed, remember:

  1. You don't have to respond to that text or email. It will all be there tomorrow.

  2. Be aware of opening or scrolling social media, or the news. Not only is it designed to suck you in and steal your attention...keeping you up much longer than planned, but I ask this question, do either of them leave you feeling refreshed, energized, joyful or whole? Speaking from experience, my answer is "no", so I cut those two things out of my evening routine.

Finally, to help increase awareness and create healthy time limits on your phone as well as your Apps, the solution is super simple! If you have an iPhone follow these steps:

  1. Go to 'Settings'

  2. Click on 'Screen Time'

  3. To set time limits on when you use your phone, click on 'Downtime'. Then set your downtime times. (You have the option to override the downtime. The best part about setting downtime is the level of awareness it raises).

  4. To set time limits on your App use, click on 'App Limits' and set the amount of time you want to use per App. (You have the option to override the downtime.)

Happy Sleeping!


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