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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One of our rituals was in the week before Christmas, we’d go shopping and each kiddo would choose a keepsake decoration for the tree. This would forever be their decoration. To make sure we’d remember who owned what (a year is a long time!) I wrote their name and year on the box. The idea is that when they leave home, they’ll have a collection of special decorations for their own tree, plump with throwbacks (‘Oh I remember when we bought this!).

Then of course there was Christmas morning. Santa would leave a note on the table and bootprints on the front path, which smelled remarkably like talcum powder. So magical the way the snow was under the boot and never melted, even in an Australian summer! But that’s the magic of Christmas, right?!

We often put so much pressure on ourselves to make Christmas magical. Rituals can make this easier. They get the special memories, you get to make the ‘magic’ without having to come up with something new and different each year.

It’s very likely that there will already be Christmas rituals happening in your family, even if you don’t realise it. Ask them what they remember most, or what they loved most about last Christmas, aside from the presents.

They might surprise you with things you’d completely forgotten about, or which at the time didn’t seem to be a biggie. It can be the simplest things. Maybe they loved the way they were allowed to have ice-cream with pancakes at breakfast last Christmas. (Ice-cream at breakfast?! Told you Christmas was magical!!). 

If it’s what they remember, and if it lights them up, let it become a ‘thing’. Maybe they loved the magic ‘neverending carrot’ sprinkles you put on the scrawny carrot you found in the vege drawer (remembering reindeer groceries can be so hard sometimes!)

You’d be surprised what they find special. It doesn’t have to be big to feel magical.

What are your Christmas rituals? Let’s share ideas in the comments.♥️
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It can feel as though the only way to strengthen them against their anxiety is to make sure they have nothing to worry about, but when their worries are real this might not happen quickly. 

Instead, we need to focus on helping them know that even though those worries are there, they will be okay. ‘Not worrying’ isn’t the antidote to anxiety, trust is. This will start with trust in you and your belief that they will be okay, and trust in your reaction if things don’t go to plan. Eventually, as they grow this will expand into trust in themselves and their own capacity to find their way through challenges to a place of hope and strength. 
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Strong steady breathing will reverse the fight or flight physiology that causes nausea, butterflies, or sick or sore tummies during anxiety. BUT telling an anxious brain to take a strong steady breath will potentially make anxiety worse unless strong steady breathing feels familiar. Practising during calm times will make it familiar. 

During anxiety we’re dealing with their amygdala, and it wants short shallow breathing to conserve oxygen. It doesn’t want strong steady breathing and will work hard to resist this. 

An anxious brain is a busy brain and it will be less able to do anything unfamiliar. A few minutes of strong steady breathing each day will set up a strong neural pathway to make strong breathing more automatic and accessible during anxiety. 

In the meantime though, you can do it for them. This is the magic of co-regulation. When you do strong steady breathing during their anxiety, it will calm your nervous system which will eventually calm theirs. You will catch their anxiety, and this will feed into their anxiety. Your strong steady breathing is the circuit breaker. They will catch your anxiety, but they will also catch your calm. Don’t worry if this takes a few minutes (and maybe a few more after that). Anxious brains are strong, powerful, beautiful brains working hard to protect. Breathe and be with. This will open the way for that distressed young nervous system to find its way home. And you don’t need to do more than that.♥️
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Needs and behaviour can get tangled up and treated as one. When you can, separate the need from the behaviour. Give voice to the need - let it find a way to breathe - and redirect the behaviour. 

The need might always be clear, especially if it’s being smothered by angry shouting words. If we stifle the behaviour without acknowledging the need, the need stays hungry. Help usher it into the light by making it clear that you’re ready to receive it. Then wait. Wait for the big behaviour to ease, for bodies to calm, and angry voices to soften - but keep the way to you open. ‘You’re a great kid and I know you know that behaviour wasn’t okay. Talk to me about what’s happening for you.’

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