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Your Smartphone Could Be Hurting Your Sleep

Eric Loseke, Science and Technology Editor

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According to CNN, we all love having our smartphones around us, but it could hurt our daily sleep. According to a new study, using our phones, especially near going to bed, has been linked to worse sleep quality. Dr. Gregory Marcus, the author of the study, says that when the smartphone was used around a person’s bedtime, the time on the smartphone was linked to a longer time to fall asleep, and less sleep quality during the night.

Tech addiction

The word “crackberry” became popular about ten years ago to describe how BlackBerry devices were very addictive, as they were argued to be the first successful smartphones. Most people now are addicted to smartphone usage, standing with their head bowed while waiting for something to arrive. Marcus and his team wanted to test whether smartphone usage was linked to sleep deprivation rates after observing that smartphone usage and sleep deprivation rates increased at the same time. He used the current study combined with an Internet-based study called “Health eHeart” taken in March 2013.

Mining the data

Of all of the 80,000 total Health eHeart participants, 653 of them consented to participate in the smartphone-sleep study. The participants had to install an app on their phones that automatically recorded how long they used their phones during a 30-day period. They already revealed their sleep hours and quality in an online questionnaire during their general experience at Health eHeart. So, with the sleep questions, they also added information about alcohol use, physical activity, smoking habits, and other health issues, and by answering so many questions, the participants were unaware of what the scientists were studying.

The researchers found after analyzing the data that participants of the study used their phone on average of a total amount of 38.4 hours over a period of 30 days. People that had a longer average screen time had worse sleep quality and less overall sleep: Approximately 35% of people who used their phone less had better sleep quality than 42% of people that used their phone more. Poor sleep quality was much more likely for the participants who used their phones closer to going to bed. Marcus’ study matches results from other studies showing that using technology right before bedtime has been associated with sleep difficulties, due to blue light emitted by smartphones, which makes us more alert.

Sleep: a basic need

Dr. Neil Kline, a sleep physician, internist, and representative of the American Sleep Association, states:

“It is believed that sleep is a restorative process and a basic biologic need. When animals, including humans, are deprived of sleep, there are many body systems that fail. Not only does our performance, memory and attention span suffer, our immune system and endocrine system is also impaired.”

According to Kline, who was not affiliated in any way with the study, sleep deprivation is associated with metabolic disease and increased appetite. Poor sleep quality is also a risk factor for obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression. Although the adverse effects were studied only on adults, technology can impact children’s sleep, according to a different study. The leader of the study found that using cell phones, tablets, and computers is associated with less sleep time and quality with teenagers and children.

Although Ben Carter, the leader of the teen study, thought the conclusion in Marcus’ investigation was reasonable, he believes the research is flawed in specific ways. According to Carter, the participants in the Health eHeart study was likely to over-represent people with more reduced cardiac function and people who are older than most mobile device users. Carter found that the majority of the participants that made a significant mark in the study were female and had an average age of 44 and 52 years old, which is not true for the general population. Marcus suspects that some people might have a more significant effect on the smartphone usage than others, and he hopes to investigate the question of how smartphones affect sleep more in the future. Based on his results, he suggested that insomniacs should avoid using smartphones at least half an hour before going to bed to see if it would help their sleep quality.

In conclusion, a study led by Dr. Gregory Marcus found that using a smartphone right before going to bed has been linked to lower sleep quality. Many people now are addicted to using their phones, which inspired Marcus and his team to create the study combined with an Internet-based survey called “Health eHeart.” 653 Health eHeart participants were a part of the smartphone-sleep research, and they inputted many different things to the team, whether related to the study or not so the participants were unaware of what the scientists were studying. After analyzing the data, the scientists found that the people who used their phone less had a better sleep quality than those who used their phones more and closer to bed. Marcus hopes to investigate the topic of smartphones affecting sleep in greater detail and offers advice to insomniacs that they should stop using their smartphones at least half an hour before going to bed to hopefully enhance sleep quality.

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Your Smartphone Could Be Hurting Your Sleep