Good Digital Parenting
Blog | March 13, 2017

The Effects of Using Technology at Night

Student, American University

As a teenager, one of the biggest fights I had with my dad was over whether or not I could use my cell phone in my room at night. The fighting began when I got my very first cell phone, a flip phone with no texting. All it could do was make calls and take low-quality pictures. In hindsight, I’m not even sure why I felt so strongly about having it in my room.

Of course, as I went through middle and high school, cell phone technology grew with me. At 14, I got an unlimited texting plan and a cell phone with a full keyboard (EnV3, you will always be my favorite phone). At 16, I splurged all my summer job money on my first smartphone. With each milestone, I became more and more obsessed with having my phone on me at all times.

My parents were less than thrilled about this. Our family’s rule was that all phones had to be in the kitchen by 9 p.m. and couldn’t be touched until we woke up the next morning. Being the oldest and the guinea pig, I managed to find lots of loopholes and ways to trick my parents out of enforcing this rule (sorry Mom and Dad). But now that I’m a quasi-adult, I can actually understand and appreciate where their concerns were coming from.

Technology at bedtime can wreak havoc on our bodies, sleep schedules and overall well-being. It is especially important to consider these potential issues when considering what technology rules to establish as a family, as children and even adolescents need significantly more sleep than adults do. Here are some of the ways that technology interrupts sleep and evening routines.

Technology Can Lower Our Melatonin Levels

Melatonin is the hormone that controls our sleep. A certain amount of melatonin needs to be produced in order for us to fall asleep and is produced when we are in darkness or at least limited lighting. When using phones or tablets, the screens prevent melatonin from building up and allowing us to fall asleep. Instead, the brightness slows down the production of the hormone and tells our bodies that it’s time to wake up.

Technology Can Be Mentally Distracting

When we’re using technology, our minds are often racing from being connected with friends, sorting emails or just browsing online. All of these different activities can cause stress or excitement, making it more difficult to relax and fall asleep. There are also many theories that the body uses sleep and the time leading up to it to process the day’s activities and solidify learning, which cannot be done if we are focused on smartphones instead.

Technology Can Take Us Down the Rabbit Hole

Once we get on our devices, it can prove difficult to put them down. With smartphones having virtually everything we could ever need at our fingertips, from work to social, we’re never really “done” using our phones. It can sometimes be hard to decide when to stop using them and actually put them down for the night. By leaving them outside of the bedroom, there isn’t even a chance to get swept up in our apps.

Technology Can be Habit Forming

For children especially, it can be all too easy to learn to rely on technology as a part of the bedtime routine. Watching Netflix or playing games on a tablet can become standard, and without it, you may experience difficulty in falling asleep. This can turn into a vicious cycle of not being able to sleep, using your phone in an attempt to tire yourself, and being woken up even more by the screen.

With all these effects that technology can have on our bodies and sleep cycles, it is just better to leave them out of our bedrooms and get a restful night before we return to them again in the morning. Forming healthy sleep habits now can teach kids the importance of both sleep and of not being so attached to their smartphones. So as much as it pains me to say it, you were right Mom and Dad.

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