Friday, June 8, 2018

Can’t Sleep at Night? Can’t Stay Awake During the Day? Here’s Your Problem…

Student hidden, possibly sleeping, behind stack of books.Reading before bed used to be considered a healthy way to wind down and prepare both your mind
and body for a restful night’s sleep. However, now that much of our reading is done on screens instead of on paper, that may no longer be the case. Although technology has long been implicated as a potential factor in sleep deprivation and disruption (Johansson, Petrisko & Chasens, 2016), that hasn’t stopped us from hopping into bed with our devices. Indeed, most secondary and post-secondary students own a smartphone and often use it to read social media, text their friends, watch videos or listen to music before bed (Moulin & Chung, 2017). As it turns out, the sleep deprivation associated with late-night technology, either through delaying bedtimes, waking up to check their devices overnight, or using devices within an hour of going to bed, can have a substantial impact on students’ academics, relationships, and health and safety choices (Moulin & Chung, 2017).

Just Going to Refresh One More Time

Unsurprisingly, the limitless amount of information and entertainment offered by technology can encourage students to delay their bedtimes, resulting in less time spent asleep each night. Orzech, Grandner, Roane, and Carskadon (2016) found that first-year university students went to bed about five minutes later for every fifteen minutes spent working on their computers in the last hour before bed. This might not seem like much, but delaying sleep for an extra twenty minutes (or more) can have a substantial impact on students who already aren’t sleeping as long as recommended (Adams & Kisler, 2013).

The number of devices students use regularly can also affect their sleep. Using multiple devices in the hour before bed was associated with adolescents waking up earlier than anticipated, greatly reducing the amount of sleep they got each night (Johansson et al., 2016). Similarly, Bruni and colleagues (2015) found that just having multiple devices in the bedroom contributed to a worse quality of sleep in the 11- to 16-year old students in their study.

Don’t Want to Miss a Thing… 

Approximately 72% of secondary and post-secondary students sleep with their smartphones and other mobile devices in bed with them (Moulin & Chung, 2017). This increases the likelihood of their sleep being disturbed by a phone call, text message, or pesky app notification. Indeed, Adams and Kisler (2013) found that nearly half of post-secondary students admitted to waking up in the middle of the night to answer a text or phone call in the past week. On average, students lost approximately 45 minutes of sleep to these late-night disruptions, reducing their sleep quantity to just over seven hours per night (Adams & Kisler, 2013). 

In addition to reducing students’ time spent asleep, these interruptions had an impact on their sleep quality and daytime functioning. Adolescents reported feeling sleepy during the day, nearly falling asleep during class, attentional difficulties, and a desire to have gotten more sleep (Moulin & Chung, 2017). In some cases, students also experienced an increase in symptoms associated with depression and anxiety due to sleep disturbances (Adams & Kisler, 2013). 

Catching Up Before Checking Out… 

Even if you’re on track to sleep for as long as you need to, checking your devices in the last hour before bed can have a significant impact on your sleep quality. Between 80 to 97% of adolescents surveyed admitted to using their mobile phone, computer, music device, or television just before going to bed, which was found to be associated with reports of inadequate sleep, including feeling unrefreshed in the mornings and feeling sleepy throughout the day (Bruni et al., 2015; Johansson et al., 2016; Moulin & Chung, 2017; Orzech et al., 2016). Although White, Buboltz, and Igou (2010) were unable to identify a similar link, they did find that adolescents who exhibited addictive texting behaviours, including compulsivity, preoccupation, and pathological behaviour, also reported reductions in sleep quality and quantity. 

These results aren’t surprising. According to the National Sleep Foundation (n.d.), the use of digital devices before bed can impact our sleep in the following ways: 
  • Affect melatonin production. Melatonin is best known for regulating the wake/sleep cycle. However, the blue light associated with many device screens has been found to affect the amount of melatonin that is produced, having a negative impact on the quantity and perceived quality of students’ sleep. 
  • Keep the brain on high alert. Scrolling through social media, listening to music, and watching funny cat videos before bed stimulates your brain, keeping it ready for action. This can prevent your body from reaching the relaxation needed for restful sleep. 

So What? 

Despite what this article might seem to suggest, technology has done amazing things for our society, so getting rid of it altogether isn’t the answer. Nevertheless, adjusting how we access our devices before bed can help ensure we get the sleep we need: 
  1. Try to allocate at least thirty minutes of screen-free time before heading off to bed (National Sleep Foundation, n.d.). This can provide enough time to boost melatonin production and allow our brain and body to relax. 
  2. Make good use of your phone’s Do Not Disturb function. Moulin and Chung (2017) found that less than a quarter of the students they studied silenced their devices before going to sleep. With most phones having the ability to schedule a Do Not Disturb period to correspond with our time spent asleep, it’s a worthwhile decision. 
  3. Keep your devices out of the bedroom! If your brain associates your bedroom with relaxation and sleep (rather than reading or working), it can help you transition into sleep faster (National Sleep Foundation, n.d.). 
Click the preview above to view the full infographic (WebpageFX, n.d.).


Adams, S. K., & Kisler, T. S. (2013). Sleep quality as a mediator between technology-related sleep quality, depression, and anxiety. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 16(1), 25-30.
Bruni, O., Sette, S., Fontanesi, L., Baiocco, R., Laghi, F., & Baumgartner, E. (2015). Technology use and sleep quality in preadolescence and adolescents. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 11(12), 1433-1441.
Johansson, A. E. E., Petrisko, M. A., & Chasens, E. R. (2016). Adolescent sleep and the impact of technology use before sleep on daytime function. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 31(5), 498-504.
Moulin, K. L., & Chung, C. (2017). Technology trumping sleep: Impact of electronic media and sleep in late adolescent students. Journal of Education and Learning, 6(1), 294-321.
National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Three ways gadgets are keeping you awake. Retrieved from
Orzech, K. M., Grandner, M. A., Roane, B. M., & Carskadon, M. A. (2016). Digital media use in the 2h before bedtime is associated with sleep variables in university students. Computers in Human Behavior, 55(A), 43-50.
WebpageFX. (n.d.). Sleeping with technology [infographic]. Retrieved from
White, A. G., Buboltz, W., & Igou, F. (2010). Mobile phone use and sleep quality and length in college students. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 1(18), 51-58.

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