Tech + Millennials = Less Sleep

Millennials—we love our tech don’t we? From tablets to laptops, iPhones to Snapchat, there’s always something new and engaging that absolutely requires our attention. Whether it’s catching up on the latest episode of Workaholics on my smart phone, sending a round of late night emails, or just binge watching scary videos from YouTube on my tablet, I just can’t seem to put down that tech.

But how is that affecting our health? And more importantly—our sleep patterns.

Let’s start with the not so good news first.

A 2015 survey conducted by the Bank of America found that 71% of respondents regularly fell asleep with their phones nearby, with 23% of those surveyed admitting to having fallen asleep with a phone in their hand. This same study concluded that 89% of respondents checked their smartphone several times a day and that younger millennials (aged 18–24) were most likely to constantly check their mobile phones.

Nearly half of those surveyed said that they couldn’t make it a single day without their mobile devices and older millennials (aged 25–34) were found to be one of the generations most dependent on their smartphones (the other being Gen X).

There was also another 2015 study out of the University of Pittsburgh that suggested frequent users of the top 11 social media channels experienced more sleep disturbance than those who logged on less. A postdoctoral researcher in the university’s psychiatry department studied the social-media usage and sleep quality of 1,800 young adults. Interestingly, they discovered that study participants averaged an hour a day on one or more of the social media networks and checked their accounts 30 times a week. The downside? Nearly 30 percent of these participants suffered from what was considered “high levels” of sleep disturbance.

Scary enough? No? Wait. There’s more.

Another study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health discovered that out of 2,400 young adults surveyed, 42% reported insomnia symptoms. The national average floats at around 30%.

Dare to take a guess about what might be affecting the sleeping patterns of millennials?

Unfortunately, those gadgets that we so overwhelming love are starting to play mind games with us, keeping us awake at night and ruining the potential for a good night’s rest. Our electronic devices have become both a gift and a curse.

We carry them with us throughout the day, checking the news, Googling random facts, tweeting, and texting with friends and family—even at bedtime. But they negatively affect us in so many ways including:

1. Suppressing melatonin.

Let’s get science-y for a moment. Did you know the blue light emitted by the screens on your electronic devices, such as computers and cell phones, negatively affects the production of melatonin? You might be wondering if that’s a big deal. The answer is yes.

Melatonin is the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle, otherwise known as your circadian rhythm. So, by reducing your melatonin production, those bright little screens are making it harder to fall asleep and stay awake. Think about that the next time you’re tempted to randomly scroll through Reddit before falling asleep.

2. Keeping your brain alert.

Laying in bed sending off a few last minute emails or reading through some of your favorite websites may seem harmless enough, but the truth is that our electronic devices can trick our brains into staying alert for longer than they should be.

Also, interaction with our favorite social media platforms can trigger a variety of emotional, cognitive, and physiological reactions in us, making it more difficult to fall asleep. Rather than relaxing us and setting our mind at ease, technology can fuel our thoughts and keep us up. After a day surrounded by technology, allow your mind an opportunity to really unwind by staying away from those phones, tablets, and even TVs.

3. They wake us up even when we don’t want them to.

So you don’t use your cell phone before falling asleep? Excellent—except if you keep your devices within arm’s reach while you slumber.

You can say thanks to all those late night chimes from emails, texts, calls, or calendar reminders for waking you up unnecessarily. Going to sleep with your cell phone ringer on will lead to sleep intrusion and awakenings at least a few nights a week.

But there’s still hope ladies and gentlemen…there’s still hope.

Just like we’ve been conditioned to develop these habits of constant tech use, we can still develop healthier sleep habits to help us unplug before bed.

Consider the following tips for getting a better night’s rest:

  • Set a rule in your house that no electronics can be used at least 30 minutes to one hour before bed. This goes for any significant others and children that you may be sharing your house with. What’s important is to avoid using that bright light-emitting screen before bedtime.
  • Is reading one of your favorite pre-bed rituals? Well, take back to the old school by actually reading a printed book rather than using that Kindle.
    Consider removing any electronic devices out of your bedroom. That means even getting rid of that TV in your room. Try your best to reserve your bedroom for relaxation and sleep.
  • Get rid of that excess light that’s in your room. Electronic clocks, stereos, and other similar tech devices still emit ambient light that can affect your sleep. Also, try using darker window shades or an eye mask to block out all that extra light that may be seeping into your room from the outside.
  • There are ton of other activities that you can enjoy aside from using electronic devices. Take a nice warm shower. Meditate for 15 minutes. Do some breathing exercises. Enjoy some soothing music. Again, give your mind an opportunity to wind down without technology.
  • If you must (emphasis on must) use your cell phone, tablet, or computer before bed, that consider using software filters that help to block or soften the blue light emitted by the screens. There are numerous apps available to help you computer’s display colors change depending on the time of day.

And there you have it. There is still hope for us to fight against the Matrix.

For all of us millennials, it’s important to remember that technology is more of a means to an end, and we should always take the time to enjoy the real and beautiful world around us.

Go outside. Get some sun. Hit South Padre Island with your friends. Discover some adventure in the RGV. And unplug from your devices for a moment (only after reading this blog, of course).