Poor mental health linked to late-night phone use, says study

Being a night owl with your phone can have dramatic effects on your mental health.

Life is a busy buzz. We have careers to worry about, children to tend to, and many other responsibilities. Perhaps the only peace comes at bedtime when the kids are asleep, and you take that last browse on your phone. Or play games. Maybe you might already know that staring at a mobile phone screen is not too good for you. However, you might not know that there are bigger consequences. A recent study attempts to answer the old-age question, “Are mobile phones dangerous or not if I use them before sleeping?” The answer is scary. 

“Are mobile phones dangerous or not if I browse before sleeping?”

Researchers from the University of Glasgow used data from the UK Biobank to conduct their study. They monitored the activity levels of 91,905 people who were between 35 to 73 years old for more than a week.

mobile phones dangerous or not

Exercising in the day sets you up for good sleep at night!

Professor Daniel Smith, professor of psychiatry at the university, said that a healthy rhythm constitutes being active during the day and very idle after sunset.

The researchers found that an unhealthy rhythm disturbed the normal 24-hour sleep/wake cycle. For example, staring at an electronic device screen after about 10pm could signal to your brain that it is still daytime. And this disrupts your rhythm.

In the study, the resulting “unhealthy rhythm” was linked to a higher risk of developing problems with mental health, such as:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Low mood 
  • Feeling lonely and sad

The Next Step

Professor Smith justifies the importance of the study, saying that it demonstrates a strong link between disrupted sleep rhythm and mood disorders. However, there are still many avenues for research to improve. For instance, researchers are unsure whether a distorted body clock results in mental health problems, or the other way round.

To investigate this further, Dr Aiden Doherty, a senior research fellow from the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Populaiton Health, suggests that the next step could be to conduct more research on younger people.

How To Maintain a Normal Sleep-Wake Cycle

There are many ways to maintain a healthy sleep rhythm. Professor Smith says that people can sleep better by switching off their mobile phones at around 10pm because, as stated earlier, the screen lighting signals to your brain that it is still daytime.

A tech detox might also help you calm down.

Another good alternative is practicing sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene ensures that you sleep at the right time and that you sleep well. The Harvard University advises the following tips for adults: 

mobile phones dangerous or not

Eating a heavy meal right before you sleep will just worsen your insomnia.

Watch What You Eat and Drink Before Bed

  • Avoid meals that make you too full at too late a time, especially food that may cause indigestion. If you do feel peckish, eat light bites that won’t interfere with your sleep. 
  • Keep hydrated so you won’t wake up thirsty — but don’t drink liquids excessively.  
  • Avoid chemicals that could disrupt your sleep.
    • Caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, cola) and perishables (chocolate and pain relievers) should not be consumed up to six hours before bedtime.
    • Tobacco products should also be avoided.
    • Set boundaries for alcohol. Ideally, you should not be drinking more that one to two glasses daily, and not later than three hours before sleeping. Alcohol stimulates waking up later in the night and reduces your sleep quality.

Setting Up the Right Sleeping Location

  • An (ideally) dark, silent, well-ventilated and cold (15-25 degrees) bedroom, with a cozy bed will give you good sleep. Consider: 
    • using earplugs to maintain silence
    • placing heavy curtains or using eyemasks to keep the place dark 
    • letting pets sleep elsewhere 
  • Designate the bed for nothing else but sleep and sex ONLY. That means no TVs, computers, or work tools. 

Improving Lifestyle Habits and Routine

  • Consistently maintain the same sleep and waking time. This habit will fix your internal clock so that your body can get used to sleeping at a designated time at night. 
  • Do exercise at least three hours a day. 
  • Wake up in bright light. Doing so helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle in a healthy routine. 
  • Maintain a restful pre-sleep routine every time you want to sleep, such as by watching TV. Don’t engage in activities that will make you alert, such as discussing heavy issues. In case you do worry about issues while trying to sleep, write them down and set them aside.

What If I Still Can’t Sleep?

  • Only sleep when you become really tired, and don’t stare at the clock. If you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, consider relaxing in another room by, say, listening to music or reading books until you feel sleepy — but keep the lights low. 
  • Don’t nap while it’s still bright. Napping in the afternoon can make you less drowsy at night. If you must, don’t nap for too long and try to do it before 5 p.m. 
  • Consult a doctor if you find yourself unable to sleep even after these tips. It could be a sign of deeper underlying issues.

Sleep Hygiene for Your Kids!

What about kids? In our previous article, Dr. Jenny Tang, Vice-President of Singapore Sleep Society and Paediatrician for Singapore Baby and Child Clinic, also recommends the following sleep tips for kids. 

  • For infants and toddlers, set up consistent limits and maintain a good bedtime routine. For example, parents can wash the baby up, cuddle with mum, tell bedtime story and give a goodnight kiss at the same time ever night. A good bedtime routine that children can look forward to will train the child to sleep by himself. 
mobile phones dangerous or not

A good bedtime story is also a great time for family bonding!

  • Don’t let your infant sleep on their stomach. Sleeping prone (i.e. on the stomach) might heighten the risk of sudden infant death, in particular if other factors, such as passive smoking, are present. 
  • Ensure that your child sleeps the right amount of total hours for both sleep and naps. Children of at least five years of age usually stop napping and fulfill their total required sleep time at night. This way, children have full cycles of sleep, resulting in full benefits of sleep compared to naps. For instance, nighttime sleeping has more deep sleep and dreaming compared to naps. 

We at theAsianparent hope that this clarifies your doubts and answers the question “Are mobile phones dangerous or not?”

References: The Lancet, Harvard Medical School, Forbes

Also read: Dad explains why we should focus less on phones and more on kids 

                    One More Hour