Is it okay to use electronic gadgets during bedtime?

Checking social media notifications and email in the middle of the night can affect your mental health. Here's how

M Priyanka

Do you have a habit of staring into your phone late into the night? Or perhaps your laptop joins you in bed? You probably already have sleep issues or have chances of developing them.

Technology and gadgets have become ubiquitous in our lives. The line that differentiates healthy use and misuse is very fine, almost non-quantifiable. But if the use of technology is affecting your sleep patterns, your use of gadgets may be excessive.

A person needs at least 6-8 hours of sleep everyday for the body to function healthily. But if sleep time includes preoccupation with electronic gadgets, especially to check email and social media, many sleep disturbances may occur. Use of electronics can:

  • Eat into your sleep time.

  • Lead to long-term sleep problems.

  • Affect one’s ability to think clearly.

  • Decrease productivity at work or school in the long run.

  • Cause mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

"We see parents complain about their children playing online games during the night that keep them awake," says Dr Manoj Sharma, psychologist and founder of the SHUT clinic (Service for Healthy Use of Technology), which treats technology addiction. "Many kids play online team games with people from other countries, whose time zones are different from that of ours. This can cause them to lose sleep at night, and feel sleepy and exhausted during the morning hours," he adds.

What makes a person go online at the night? Experts say loneliness, boredom, curiosity, and peer pressure are the major reasons people resort to their gadgets and spending time online. On the other hand, some also have a habit of playing video or music in the background while they sleep, which can also make one hooked to technology.

The SHUT clinic studied the workplace technology use of 250 employees at various private and government offices. It found that 58.8 percent used the mobile phone, desktop, or laptop at home as well as at the office. Postponement of work – procrastinating due to use of the Internet – was reported by 42 percent. About 5 percent reported choosing to go online rather than eat or sleep. They also reported waking up in the middle of the night to check their social media and email notifications at least 4 times, affecting their quality of sleep. This caused a delay of one and half hours in the sleep time and waking up time.

Biologically, the use of technology at night can affect the secretion of melatonin, a hormone associated with controlling sleep cycles (or circadian rhythms).

What can you do?

Here are some things you can do to help your body adjust to natural sleep cycles:

  • Switch off all gadgets at least one hour before bedtime. 
  • Consider using a real alarm clock instead of your mobile phone's alarm. This could help avoid the temptation to use your phone at night.
  • Practice fixed sleep and waking up timings. The body will gradually adjust to these timings within two or three weeks.
  • Don't try to compensate during the day for poor or inadequate nighttime sleep
  • Avoid stimulant beverages such as energy drinks or coffee before bedtime. Work with your body: figure out what is the best time for you to consume these beverages so that you can get a good night's sleep.
  • Daily physical activity can help you sleep better. 
  • Eat light at night, preferably two hours before sleeping.

References

Shrivastava, Apoorva, Manoj Kumar Sharma, and Palaniappan Marimuthu. "Internet addiction at workplace and it implication for workers life style: Exploration from Southern India." Asian journal of psychiatry 32 (2018): 151-155.

Shyam, H. R., Manoj Kumar Sharma, and T. Palanichamy. "Exploration of technology use pattern among teenagers and its relationship with psychological variables." ASEAN J Psychiatry 17 (2016): 239-49.