I have always enjoyed my routine of reading in bed before I got to sleep. When I was a teenager, I often would get so engrossed in the book I was reading, I would sometimes read for hours into the morning without noticing the time go by. This has not happened to me for quite a long time. Nowadays, as a busy Ph.D student, by the time I go to bed I am usually too tired to reach for a novel. However, sometimes I do end up reading the New York Times on my iPhone. And more often than not, a dozen articles later, I realize that an hour just went by without me noticing. Of course, when the alarm goes off the next morning, I immediately notice that missing hour of sleep. However, I’ve now come to learn that I may be missing more than just that hour of rest.
According to a 2014 study by Lanaj, Johnson and Barnes, smartphone use after 9 p.m. is associated with decreased sleep quantity. What is more, nighttime smartphone use disrupts sleep and increases depletion the next morning. This, in turn, diminishes work engagement during the day. During the study, 82 upper level managers and 161 employees working in a variety of occupations, had to fill out multiple surveys every day for two weeks. The questionnaires examined their daily use of smartphones, sleep quantity, sleep quality and their state of depletion. The study further found that smartphones had a bigger depletion effect than using a laptop or tablet or watching TV.
Worse, a recent article in the New York Times (which I read at 1:42 a.m.) reported a link between nighttime smartphone use and insomnia. This was due not only to the fact that users becomes engaged by the content on their phone, but also due to exposure to the blue light emitted by smartphone and tablet screens. A 2012 study from the Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute showed that a 2-hour exposure to electronic devices with backlit displays causes melatonin suppression which may lead to delayed bedtimes, especially in teens and young adults.
This is unwelcome news to the growing number of the device owners. A new report compiled by Pew Research found that, 58% of American adults own a smartphone, 32% of American adults own an e-reader and 42% of American adults own a tablet computer. The study further found that 44% of cell phone owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls, text messages, or other updates during the night. As a nation, we are likely losing countless hours of sleep.
Fortunately, the solution to this particular problem is simple and obvious, but perhaps difficult to execute, as those of you who reading this in bed right can attest…