In search of a good night’s sleep

Feeling sleep-deprived? The habit of talking on the cell phone, texting and/or using the computer before bedtime might be at least partly to blame.

Findings from a new survey by the National Sleep Foundation suggest that as technology becomes increasingly prominent in people’s lives, it’s starting to interfere with a good night’s sleep.

In many ways, the results of the annual “Sleep in America” poll aren’t too surprising. When you see people even taking laptops and cell phones into public restrooms, it stands to reason the technology will accompany them into the bedroom too. But whatever happened to the old-fashioned, low-tech practice of relaxing with a book before turning out the lights?

The findings from the poll are pretty interesting, especially when they’re broken down by age groups. For instance, about four in 10 of the survey respondents said they bring their cell phone into the bedroom with them at night and use the phone while they’re trying to go to sleep. Among 13- to 18-year-olds, though, almost three-fourths said they do this. For those in their 20s, it was 67 percent.

R u sleepy yet? Slightly more than half of teenagers and about 40 percent of 19- to 29-year-olds said they texted every night or almost every night during the hour before bedtime. And the more often they texted at bedtime, the less likely they were to report having a good night’s sleep or waking up feeling refreshed, and the more likely they were to feel sleepy during the day.

That’s not all. Twenty-two percent of the survey participants left their cell phone on at night. One in 10 reported being awakened at least a few nights a week by phone calls, text messages or e-mails.

Computer or laptop use seems to be even more pervasive at bedtime. Overall, six in 10 of those who were polled said they use their computer or laptop at least a few nights a week before trying to go to sleep. Again, this was most widespread among teens and adults in their 20s.

What’s a little surprising is that older adults apparently are doing it too. About half of 46- to 64-year-olds and nearly 60 percent of 30- to 45-year-olds said they spend time on a computer before going to sleep. The most popular activities? Visiting social networking sites, sending and receiving e-mails, watching videos, using word processing or spreadsheet software, and listening to music.

Like the phone users and texters, the folks who often used their computer before bedtime didn’t sleep as well, felt sleepier during the daytime and were more likely to drive while drowsy than those who stayed away from the computer at bedtime.

Here’s another interesting bit from the poll: Overall, nearly all the respondents used some form of communication technology in the hour before bedtime. Among younger people, though, the technology was usually a laptop or a cell phone; among people over age 45, it was usually TV-watching.

Why does it matter? In an accompanying article, sleep experts explained how technology use can disrupt the sleep cycle:

“Artificial light exposure between dusk and the time we go to bed at night suppresses release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, enhances alertness and shifts circadian rhythms to a later hour, making it more difficult to fall asleep,” says Charles Czeisler, PhD, MD, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.  “This study reveals that light-emitting screens are in heavy use within the pivotal hour before sleep. Invasion of such alerting technologies into the bedroom may contribute to the high proportion of respondents who reported that they routinely get less sleep than they need.”

Michael Gradisar of Flinders University in Australia has done research on the difference between passive technologies, such as television and music, and interactive technologies such as video games and the Internet, and how they may affect the brain. “The hypothesis is that the latter devices are more alerting and disrupt the sleep-onset process,” he said. “If you feel that these activities are alerting or causing you anxiety, try doing something more ‘passive’ to help you wind down before bed.”

Among the advice from the National Sleep Foundation on how to get a better night’s sleep: Establish a relaxing bedtime routine, avoid bright light at night, and create a comfortable sleeping environment that’s free of distractions. Yes, that includes putting away the laptop and cell phone, at least until morning.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons