By Lisa Smalls

For most of the American population, the last 20 minutes of the day before hitting the hay goes something like this:

  • Crawl into bed and plug up your phone to charge.
  • Consider reading something to wind down – decide against it.
  • Turn off the lamp and set your alarm.
  • Set phone down.
  • Pick it up again.
  • Spend 20 aimless minutes scrolling endlessly on social media.
  • Realize it’s later than you expected.
  • Put phone down.
  • Try to fall asleep.

Ninety-five percent of the population uses their phone right before going to bed. What they don’t realize is their phone usage at night has serious implications on their sleep.

Blue-light emitted by screens on electronic devices (your phone, tablet, TV and laptop) prevents the brain from releasing melatonin, the hormone that controls our sleep/wake cycle known as our circadian rhythm. When melatonin levels decrease it’s harder for us to fall and stay asleep.

A study conducted by Harvard Medical School found that compared to reading a paper book before bed, people who read from an e-book needed an additional 10 minutes to fall asleep. They experienced 90 minutes of delayed melatonin onset and had half the amount of melatonin released. They also had diminished rapid eye movement sleep, aka the deep restorative sleep we all need desperately.

That’s not where it ends.

At night, our brains need time to wind down in order to prepare for sleep. It’s important we separate our daytime from nighttime in order to prime our bodies for a good night’s sleep. When we use our phones too close to bedtime, it keeps our mind engaged. Although it’s tempting to respond to lingering emails from the day, do yourself a favor and pass. Your mind and body will thank you.

Phone usage at night is just smoke from the fire.

Using phones before bed is just a piece of a larger issue: sleep debt the adult population is racking up. Fifty to 70 million Americans are affected by poor sleep. Not only can lack of sleep decrease productivity, focus and accuracy at work, but it also has severe health consequences.

Research shows that lack of sleep increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

What you can do:

1–Stash the screens and hour before bed

Eliminating blue-light exposure an hour before bed will lower the risk of disrupted melatonin levels. It will give your brain a chance to power time and register that it’s getting close to bedtime. Draw a bath, grab a book or stay up for a late-night chat with your spouse. Do your best to stay away from screens.

2–Transform your room to a technology free zone

If screens are especially tempting for you, it may be time for a technology detox. Move the TV to the living room, invest in a physical alarm clock rather than using your phone and stock your bedside table with books and magazines.

Your bed is a sacred space. Reserve it for sleep and sex. If you are in the habit of checking email from bed, you’ll begin to associate that space with work, not rest. Sleep is vital to your overall health and wellness. It’s important you protect it.

3–If all else fails, set your phone to “Do Not Disturb” and put on “Nighttime Mode”

If you simply cannot part with your device, at least set to “Do Not Disturb,” before hitting the hay. That way, those notification pings won’t wake your or tempt you to check your phone.

Another smartphone feature to take advantage of is “Nighttime Mode.” This adjusts your screen display to a warmer, less blue light. You can also download other blue-light filter apps for other devices.

If you frequently experience restless nights, take a look at your sleep health from a holistic point of view. Is your mattress is providing proper support? Are you drinking caffeine too late in the day? If you are struggling to get quality sleep every night, you may consider talking to your primary care physician.

Lisa Smalls is a small business owner from Raleigh, NC with a passion for writing. When she isn’t working in her shop, you can find her in yoga class or making a killer cup of coffee.

Using phone stock photo by Milan Ilic Photographer/Shutterstock