Your gadgets are robbing you of sleep

Story image for Gadgets from Times of India

Every night, Vishal Uppal would promise himself just half an hour of Netflix before going to sleep, but that usually stretched to two. “When I finally turned off the light, I could not sleep. My eyes would feel as if a truckload of sand had blown into them. I would see bright spots when I closed them. I’d curse myself for binge watching but would repeat it,” says Uppal, 35, who had to seek medical help to get his sleep back on track.

Communications professional Anjoo Mohun gets by on five hours of sleep instead of the recommended seven. “I keep checking news on my phone till midnight. It takes me hours to fall asleep. When I wake up, I feel tired,” she says.Studies confirm the negative impact of blue light on sleep. The blue-violet light emitted by screens suppresses melatonin, the sleep hormone, says Dr Preeti Devnani, a sleep expert based in Mumbai. Multiple studies have shown that production of melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep by suppressing the neurons responsible for keeping us awake, slows when people are exposed to light from e-readers and other devices in the hours before bedtime. It’s also responsible for that groggy feeling the morning after.

“Nighttime use of mobile devices is associated with poorer sleep health, which has an impact on other important domains in our life, including mood, physical health, and behaviours,” explains Sarah E Domoff, assistant professor at the department of psychology at Central Michigan University.

“Besides the light, we tend to get involved with the content on the screen. This makes the brain active and we struggle to go back to sleep,” says Dr Himanshu Garg, a sleep expert in Gurgaon. “I see at least two or three new patients every week who complain of disturbed sleep due to excessive screen use,” he says. Among his recent patients is a financial analyst who’d check his phone through the night, and another who’d fall asleep late and wake late because he stayed up working. “We had to regulate his sleep-wake cycle with medicines and lifestyle changes,” says Dr Garg.

A 2017 study published in the journal PLOS One linked higher smartphone use around bedtime with poor sleep quality. India has 530 million smartphone users, according to investment firm Omidyar Network. In this year’s Global Sleep Surveyconducted by Philips, 36% of Indians blamed technology for poor sleep.

It’s not just the light from screens that is messing up our sleep cycle but also the constant beeps and buzzes. Every time we hear a new text, Facebook post or email notification, a range of questions and emotions well up — ‘Is it my boss?’ ‘I hope it’s my girlfriend.’ ‘Is everything okay with my parents?’ — and we have to check. Researchers say we get addicted to these sounds over time.