Do you use your laptop, tablet or phone before bed? If so, it could be damaging your sleeping habits. We talk to Professor John Groeger to find out why...

Do you use your laptop, tablet or phone before bed? We recently commissioned a study to see how digital devices are affecting our sleeping habits, and the results have been absolutely staggering. For over half of the nation, checking our phones is the last thing we do before we sleep and the first thing we do when we wake up. And nearly a quarter of us will do the same if we wake in the middle of the night!

The result? 18 million of us are sleep-deprived because of our digital habits. But the big question is – how exactly do digital devices affect our sleeping patterns? And how do we solve this national problem of sleep deprivation? We’ve been speaking to Professor John Groeger, Director of Research at the Department of Psychology of Hull University and an expert in the link between digital devices and your sleeping habits, to find out how Vodafone Broadband could help.

“The risks are very evident…”

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“There’s plenty of emerging literature that draws a link between screen time and sleep,” explains John, “but it has only been in the last five years or so that we’ve had very careful studies regarding the effect of light-emitting devices before sleep.

 

“The science behind that is down to a particular hormone called Melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that we all secrete everyday – from early evening onwards – and as the level of it rises in our bloodstream, the body’s need for sleep increases. Now, there’s a particular wavelength of blue light that is emitted by digital screens that effectively replicates normal light, and this has the effect of slowing and delaying the secretion of Melatonin. So if we delay that secretion of Melatonin, we tend to fall asleep later.”

“It’s the same problem that we experience with jet lag,” he adds. “Your body is on a clock setting that suddenly gets confused by the presence of darkness or light unexpectedly. What happens with the blue light from your mobile phone or laptop is similar to that – it confuses your body clock and delays the secretion of Melatonin.”

Although John confirms that it’s difficult to know exactly how much sleep we’re getting these days, the best estimates suggest that adults get around 7 hours on average. That doesn’t sound all that bad, right? Well, it’s not quite that simple.

“From a range of studies, we know that younger people – late teens and early 20s – are much more sleep deprived than anyone else,” says John, “so they’re carrying around more of a sleep debt.”

Almost one in every two of us is concerned that digital devices are affecting our (or our family’s) sleep. That’s a lot. But here’s the big question: how can that lack of sleep affect us?

“Almost one in every two of us is concerned that digital devices are affecting our sleep…”

“Sleep deprivation can cause very profound changes,” warns John. “If you miss a night’s sleep, you’ll still be able to function and complete most easy tasks. But if that challenge is sustained for any length of time, you’re really going to struggle. We’re particularly vulnerable to making mistakes on things that require judgment, and although we can overcome the effects of sleep loss temporarily with caffeine, it will catch up eventually.”

Most of us are familiar with the short term effects of sleep deprivation, but as John explains, it’s the longer term symptoms that we should be more concerned about…

“In the longer term, eventually we’ll lose the ability to do even the most trivial things. After about three days’ lack of sleep you’ll suffer very dramatically, as your system will start to shut down.

“The risks are very evident for people who have shorter than average sleep.”

“If you don’t sleep enough for a lengthy period of time, it also increases your risk of suffering from a whole range of different health conditions,” he adds. “People who don’t sleep enough have a much higher risk of heart disease, obesity, hypertension, strokes… you name it, really. The risks are very evident for people who have shorter than average sleep.”

So it’s clear, on the back of this study, that there’s a problem that needs addressing. As a nation we’re not getting enough sleep, and an increasing reliance on our digital devices past bedtime is certainly playing a part in that. So, what’s the answer? Well, there’s an easy one, says John – stop using your phones, tablets and laptops before bed.

“Having an hour clear before you go to bed is sensible,” says John, “and you should use that time to go through a routine that is typical of a relaxing night’s sleep for you. That means making sure you’ve been to the bathroom, making sure the bedroom is the right temperature, and crucially, that you’ve dealt with anything that is on your mind well before you get into bed.

“Worry is another thing that profoundly affects our sleep,” he adds. “Often, mobile devices are useful for sending that last email or making that phone call before you sleep, but you should do those things in advance and then give yourself time for a routine that relaxes you and prepares you for sleep.”

Luckily, if you find doing all that difficult then help is at hand…

Healthy Digital Habits

It’s hard to separate yourself from your devices sometimes, but Vodafone is the only broadband provider in the country that gives you the power to control every aspect of your usage at home, in an effort to encourage people to strike a balance between their online and offline lives.

Among the slew of new features Vodafone Broadband brings with it, the innovative new Vodafone Connect app lets you set a timer on your Wi-Fi network. Do you want to stop watching Netflix or listening to Spotify at 9:30pm? No problem – just set the Wi-Fi to automatically switch off at that time and switch back on in the morning. You can do it all right from the app, allowing yourself ample time without your device to prepare yourself for a restful night’s sleep. And John believes that this is an important first step to helping all of us take control of our digital lives:

“My initial reaction was that tech companies would want to promote the use of mobile devices at all hours of the day, so I was pleasantly surprised that Vodafone gives their customers an easy way to switch off. I think it’s a very responsible thing to be doing.

“As a parent as well, it has fantastic potential in terms of being able to ration your children’s usage, both in the day and also – importantly – during the night. Being able to control the extent to which you can use these devices, and not allowing them to do things that would distract you, is potentially very, very valuable indeed.”

Take control of your broadband: To find out more about Vodafone Broadband and Vodafone’s innovative new Connect app, just click here!