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Can’t Sleep? Let’s Start with Your Phone

By Eric Dean JD, MBA, MA, MA, LPC, CADC

We are glued to our phones.  The average U.S. adult will spend roughly 3 hours per day on their cell phone, which equals about 1,100 hours or 45 days per year! The consequences of nonstop phone use are wide-ranging and not fully understood. In this post, I will review what we know about how phone usage affects sleep and provide some tips on getting better rest. 

Sleep is when our body restores itself by removing toxins and pollutants that have accumulated during the day. When we are not getting adequate sleep, we fall into sleep debt, increasing our susceptibility to mental and physical health issues. The CDC recommends 7-9 hours of sleep per night. However, the amount of sleep you need will depend on myriad variables, including stress levels, energy expenditure, genetics, and diet, among others.

When using our phone, we absorb through our eyes the light emitted by the device. Using our phone in the hours leading up to bedtime suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that signals the body to prepare for sleep, and facilitates the production of cortisol, a hormone released during times of stress that makes us feel alert. The best way to limit the impact of your phone usage on your sleep is to put your phone away at least 2 hours before bedtime. However, this is not realistic for many of us so here are some ways to minimize the negative effects of phone usage if you feel the need to use it before bedtime.  

  1.       Use the blue light filter and dim the screen brightness as low as possible. While blue light does inhibit melatonin production, other, less talked-about types of light do as well.
  2.       If you have an iPhone, turn on the “Night Shift” feature which changes the colors of your display   to warmer colors that emit less light.
  3.       Put your phone on “Do Not Disturb” to silence and prevent notifications.
  4.       Consider setting a sleep timer on your phone so that after a predetermined amount of time it shuts off.
  5.       Before bed, place your phone face down to avoid being exposed to any light it may emit during the night.
  6.       Keep your mobile device out of reach (and not in bed with you) so that if you wake up during the night you cannot use it.
  7.       In the morning, do not pick up your cell phone until you are awake for at least 30 minutes so as not to let notifications, messages, and other information on your phone, set the tone and mood for your day.
  8.       Consider using apps that are less stimulating. For example, using the Robinhood trading app can be stimulating because of quickly changing information and the ability to trade and risk money. Reading an article about gratitude would probably be less stimulating and more calming.
  9.       Consider consuming content that is less stimulating. For example, reading news stories about COVID deaths will evoke more intense emotions than reading a blog post about the benefits of having a pet on emotional health.
  10.   Consider listening to a podcast instead of looking at the display. Not only do you avoid absorbing light, but also reduce the impact of the stress response which can be activated when something (anything) is close to our face.

Most of us cannot avoid using technology altogether, but we can change the way we use it. When it comes to cell phone usage, small changes can render big results. A Symmetry therapist in Chicago can help you identify areas of your life which could be fine-tuned to help you feel better.

So, let’s get started – call Symmetry Counseling today at 312-578-9990.

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