Modern Technology and Sleep

Modern technology demands the attention of college students. As online learning materials such as e-textbooks and other digital media become more common, professors and other lecturers are frequently utilizing resources that require more screen time. When we sum up time spent by students using online academic materials along with personal involvement on social media platforms and websites, it’s easy to see how laptops, tablets and smartphones have woven their way into the fabric of students’ daily lives. However, time spent with brilliantly lit screens begin to take a darker turn when technology is used before bed. Unnatural light close to bedtime can prevent the average student from receiving adequate rest, with negative consequences on performance the next day.

Why Do We Need Sleep?

After decades of research, there is no commonly agreed upon answer as to why we need sleep. As stated by the co-founder of the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center, “the only reason we need to sleep that is really, really solid is because we get sleepy.” Although we may not completely understand why we need sleep, we do know the effects of sleep deprivation: namely, difficulty consolidating memories and learning new things, impaired judgment, and contributions to symptoms of depression. All of these consequences can be detrimental to a student’s academic and emotional well-being.

When we do get enough sleep (for most adults that is 7-9 hours each night), studies have shown that our mood becomes more positive, our focus on specific tasks increase, and we are more able to respond calmly to stressful situations.

How Does Technology Affect Sleep?

A 2011 study from the National Sleep Foundation found that 95% of those surveyed engaged in active use of technology within an hour of bedtime. Laptop, tablet and phone screens all emit blue light, which is proven to hinder or even decrease the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. The result? Our internal body clock is thrown off, and the consequence is we sleep less and potentially experience other associated negative health effects. However, it is worth noting that individuals may have different sensitivities to blue light, so the effects of screen time before bed may vary from person to person.

Fight Technology with Technology

Given the time constraints of students, technology sometimes cannot be ignored 1-2 hours before bed. When this is the case, there are some solutions available that are made possible by technology. For smartphone users, there are apps available that reduce the amount of blue light emitted as nighttime approaches. They work by either lowering the amount of blue light by lowering the “color temperature” of the screen as night wears on, or by automatically dimming the brightness of the screens starting in the evening. If you are reading on an electronic device before bed, you can also try devices that use a technology called e-paper, which mimics the look of printed pages and emits very little light. Both options can minimize exposure to blue light despite active screen usage and may help with sleep.

Sleep Tips

Try out these sleep tips to get a better nights sleep:

  • Try to limit exposure to glowing monitors 1-2 hours before bedtime.
  • Keep sleeping areas are quiet and cool, with a temperature of around 60-67 degrees.
  • Use less light for activities in the evening, and try to avoid bright light altogether in the process of getting ready to sleep.
  • Clear homework and other study materials away from your sleeping area.
  • Establish a predictable routine before bed – relaxing activities such as reading can help put you in a sleepy mood.


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