The Impact of Screens on Sleep

Obtaining a good night’s sleep is important for our mood, concentration and psychological well-being. The use of technology at night-time can interfere with both the amount that we sleep and the quality of our sleep. Sleep as you may know, is critical for our mental health.

Impact of bright screens on sleep.

Viewing bright screens (as in from a phone, computer or tablet) at night can significantly impact the time we start to feel sleepy and eventually fall asleep. This is because viewing screens increases alertness and inhibits the secretion of melatonin. Research tells us that viewing screens at night effects sleep, circadian patterns (sleep/wake cycle) and unsurprisingly, next morning alertness.

Screens have a particular type of light that makes them bright and this light mimics the effects of sunlight on the brain. In other words, when we view a bright screen our brain thinks it’s the morning sun and wakes itself up by inhibiting melatonin. Some studies have found that viewing screens up to 5 hours before bed can impact our sleep quality where screens are viewed for 1.5 hours or more.

Technology use increases our mental alertness because we may also become absorbed in what we are doing and delay our bedtime. A meta-analysis of studies with teenagers, found that using technology at night was related to later bedtimes because of the increase in alertness and failure to recognise sleep signals due to being engrossed in technology.

Not all forms of technology use are equally stimulating. Generally speaking, active forms of technology use (playing video games and texting) are more stimulating than passive ones (reading an e-book). Therefore, it’s worth engaging in more passive forms of screen use (or none at all) prior to going to bed.

What to do about screen use.

The first thing is to have ‘no screen time’ for at least on hour before bed. As well as this, a consistent bedtime routine helps to prepare the body and mind for sleep and may be beneficial.

If you can’t bear to be without screens there are few screen light-reducing products that reduce the intensity of the concentrated blue light emitted by bright visual displays. The ones I recommend based on user feedback are:

  • night shift, which is a setting on iPhone/iPads; and
  • F.lux which is both an app for android phones and program for desktops. F.lux is free.

You can also buy orange tinted glasses to further reduce out the concentrated blue light from bright visual displays. These glasses work by blocking out the concentrated blue light.

Avoiding night time temptation to view screens.

The best way to avoid the temptation to respond to texts or looking something up on your phone is to have all devices charging in a separate room. Studies have also shown that young people who have screens in their bedroom get up to an hour’s less sleep per night.

(The aim of this article is to give you ideas on well-being. Please note this article is not intended to replace therapy.)


About the Author: Tena Davies, Psychologist

Tena Davies is Psychologist based in inner city Melbourne. Tena has expertise in psychological counselling with adolescents and adults. She also works as a cyber expert providing cyber safety education to schools and professionals. As a Psychologist, Tena believes in helping clients to gain insight into their difficulties and teaching them new skills to grow and thrive. Please see www.tenadavies.com for more information.  

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Adolescence is all about the transition from childhood to adulthood. It can be a confusing time for everyone - not just for our teens but also for the adults who love them. 

Too often, the line between childhood and adulthood can be a blurry one. The expectations of adulthood can come charging at them, but without the freedoms, confidence, or capabilities that adulthood brings. They can feel with such depth and intensity, but without the adult wisdom or experience to make sense of those feelings. 

They’ll be okay, but it might feel wobbly for a while. In the meantime they will look to us for signs of safety and certainty. This doesn’t mean certainty that everything will always be okay - it won’t be - but certainty that they’ll get through, certainty that they are extraordinary, and needed, and that their will be a space and a place in the world that only they can fill.

We might not always feel that certainty. Some days we might ache, and wish we could make their world feel softer for a while. In those times, it will be less about what you do and more about who you are - being the one who can be with them without needing them to be different, the one who can handle any of their hurts or heartaches with gentle, certain hands, the one who can block out the world for a while by letting them rest in our care without needing them to be, or do, or give anything back in return.♥️
For our children, we start building the foundations for adolescence in their earliest years - the relationship we’ll have with them, who they are going to be, how they are going to be. One of the things we’ll want to build is their capacity to know their own minds and be brave enough to use it. This isn’t easy, even for adults, so the more practice we give them, the more they’ll be able to access their strong, brave, beautiful minds when they need to - when we aren’t there.

This means letting them have a say when we can, asking their opinions, and letting them disagree.

When kids and teens argue, they’re communicating. We need to listen, but the need won’t always be obvious. When littles argue because it’s spaghetti for dinner and ‘I hate spaghetti so much’ (even though last week and the 5 years before last week, spaghetti was their favourite), they might be expressing a need for sleep, power and influence, or independence. All are valid. When your teen argues because they want to do something you’ve said no to, the need might be to preserve their felt sense of inclusion with their tribe, or independence from you. Again, all valid. 

Of course, a valid need doesn’t mean it will always be met. Sometimes our needs might need to take priority to theirs, such as our need to keep them safe, or for them to learn that they can still be okay if everything doesn’t go their way, or that sometimes people will have conflicting needs that need to take priority. What’s important is letting them know we hear them and we get it.

It’s going to take time for kids to learn how to argue and express themselves respectfully. In the meantime, the words might be clumsy, loud, angry. This is when we need to hold on to ourselves, meet them where they are, let them know we hear them, and step into our leadership presence. We might give them what they need because it makes sense and because there isn’t enough reason not to. Sometimes, after giving them space to be heard we’ll need to stand our ground. Other times we might solve the problem collaboratively: This is what you want. This is what I want. Let’s talk about how we can we both get what we need.♥️
Anxiety will always tilt our focus to the risks, often at the expense of the very real rewards. It does this to keep us safe. We’re more likely to run into trouble if we miss the potential risks than if we miss the potential gains. 

This means that anxiety will swell just as much in reaction to a real life-threat, as it will to the things that might cause heartache (feels awful, but not life-threatening), but which will more likely come with great rewards. Wholehearted living means actively shifting our awareness to what we have to gain by taking a safe risk. 

Sometimes staying safe will be the exactly right thing to do, but sometimes we need to fight for that important or meaningful thing by hushing the noise of anxiety and moving bravely forward. 

When children or teens are on the edge of brave, but anxiety is pushing them back, ask, ‘But what would it be like if you could?’ ♥️

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Except I don’t do hungry me or tired me or intolerant me, as, you know … intolerably. Most of the time. Sometimes.
Growth doesn’t always announce itself in ways that feel safe or invited. Often, it can leave us exhausted and confused and with dirt in our pores from the fury of the battle. It is this way for all of us, our children too. 

The truth of it all is that we are all born with a profound and immense capacity to rise through challenges, changes and heartache. There is something else we are born with too, and it is the capacity to add softness, strength, and safety for each other when the movement towards growth feels too big. Not always by finding the answer, but by being it - just by being - safe, warm, vulnerable, real. As it turns out, sometimes, this is the richest source of growth for all of us.

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