You're far from alone if you find yourself texting or scrolling on your phone in bed. According to the Pew
Research Center, as many as 65% of adults, and 90% of teens, sleep with their phones in sight. Whether it's that
update first thing in the morning, social media right before sleeping or anything in between, checking your phone
in bed can affect how much sleep you get and how restful it is.
Getting good sleep is critical for both mental and physical health, and your phone can make that harder. Tempting
as it may be to check in or hop online — to be available for those important emails, texts or calls — there are many
reasons to be careful about bedtime cellphone use.
Here's a quick overview of the risks of sleeping with your phone, and what you can do to check your habits
and get better, sounder sleep.
Reasons to keep your phone out of bed
There's a cost to staying connected and using your phone in bed. Researchers have consistently noted that those
who use devices frequently, especially at night, are more likely to report not enough sleep and poor-quality sleep.
Though their overall safety is well established, cellphones may pose additional hazards, depending on how you use
them. Here's a breakdown of why it's a good idea to keep your bed phone-free.
Screens disrupt sleep cycles.
Cellphone and other screen use has been directly linked to disruptions of your circadian rhythm, or natural sleep-wake
cycle. As noted in research on children and adolescents, the blue light emitted by cellphones inhibits the production
of melatonin, the hormone that makes you drowsy. This lengthens the time it takes to fall asleep and reduces the
overall duration of sleep.
Your sleep cycle includes REM sleep (a stage characterized by rapid eye movements and dreams), which helps with
your memory and emotional processing. Along with reducing melatonin levels, nighttime exposure to blue light can
reduce the length of REM sleep, which can make you feel less alert and take longer to be fully awake in the morning.
In bed, or even before it, researchers have found, exposure to the light from screens can impact sleep. A 2018 review
noted that screen use within one to two hours of going to bed negatively impacted sleep, with the effect particularly
pronounced in toddlers and children.
Phones stimulate your mind.
It's not just the glow of the screen that interrupts sleep. Consider how you interact with your device. Phones are a
boundless source of information and stimulation, which can provoke a state of arousal and alertness. This can make it
harder to fall and stay asleep.
Not only that, the interactive nature of smartphones or devices — that they require active controlling — seems to make
matters worse. Some studies suggest nighttime usage of phones, as well as other interactive devices like video games,
has a more pronounced effect on sleep than more passive nighttime screen activities, such as watching TV.
Phones may pose a fire or burn risk.
Though very rare, only arising in isolated incidents, there is the risk of your phone's battery catching on fire.
In 2021, The Daily Record in Glasgow, Scotland, reported that a man's three-week-old Samsung Galaxy AO2 burst into
flames in his hand. An incompatible battery was to blame for a similar incident, in which a phone under a pillow caught
fire in Dallas, Texas, in 2014.
A phone explosion or fire in bed has the potential to cause significant harm. A recent review article noted that overheated
or burning batteries have been linked with several cases of second-degree burns. This type causes pain, blistering and fluid
discharges, and swelling, as well as sloughing, or the loss of the upper layers of skin. Because of the risk of serious burn
injury, Samsung had to recall 1 million Galaxy Note7 phones in 2016.
Getting better sleep
Knowing that phones can be hazardous to your sleep, it's important to think about what you can do to regulate and manage
your use. Since technology can particularly impact teens and children, parents should be particularly mindful and ready to
establish solid ground rules. What can you do to stop your phone from affecting your sleep? Here's a breakdown:
Try to limit overall screen time: Not only have researchers found nighttime use to be a problem, they've linked poor sleep
with overall time spent in front of screens. Figuring out ways to cut back on phone, device, computer and/or TV time can
help with sleep.
Make the bed a screen-free zone: Your bed should be for resting or sleeping only. Given the effects of the glow emitted by
phones and the way they're stimulating, consider keeping devices and phones out of bedrooms, or placing a moratorium on use
for at least an hour before bedtime. Never do work in bed.
Set up nighttime mode: If your phone is nearby, notifications and late-night texts can cut into your rest. Consider keeping
your phone on nighttime or do-not-disturb mode at night.
Create a ritual: A consistent and relaxing ritual before bed can also help make going to sleep easier. Try a relaxing bath,
meditation, reading or listening to relaxing music for a little while before climbing into bed. Keep your bedtimes consistent.
Adjust the lighting: Bright lights, such as 100-watt lightbulbs, can reduce melatonin levels, making it harder to fall
asleep. Keep the lighting in your bedroom dimmer and lower intensity.
Given how much they can do, it's little wonder that smartphones have integrated themselves into every aspect of our lives
and, indeed, made it to our bedrooms. However, nighttime screen use negatively impacts sleep; it makes it tougher to fall
and stay asleep and can interrupt your natural sleep cycles.
Limiting nighttime and overall use and keeping your bed a comfortable, screen-free zone can help ensure better-quality rest.
Giving your body the sleep it needs is a critical part of maintaining your overall mental and physical health, and it may
mean checking your phone habits. If you regularly experience trouble sleeping or are concerned about your device use, talk
to your health care provider about what you can do.