Banish Smartphones and Sleep Apps from the Bedroom

Every day it seems there’s a new app available for smartphones that promises to give you all of the information you need on your sleep patterns, making you more educated and able to sleep better.  It sounds good in theory, but in the end you’re better off without those apps.

This isn’t a case of “the less you know, the better” but rather a variety of problems.  Dr Sarah Biggs, a sleep researcher from Monash University in Melbourne, recently addressed sleep apps while speaking to a conference organized by the Australasian Sleep Association.  She was quoted in this news story:

She found that instead of aiding sleep, popular sleep apps like Sleep Cycle and Sleep Time+ could be robbing insomniacs of much needed shut-eye.

“These apps can give a false reassurance to those with insomnia or sleep apnea, leading them to believe they’re sleeping well when they’re not.”

They can paint a worrying picture of an individual’s sleep, adding to their night time anxieties and making a good night’s sleep even harder to attain.

Last year, a Washington Post reviewer looked at sleep apps and came to the conclusion that she is “happier when I banish my phone from the bedroom altogether.”  That’s the way to go.

One of the biggest problems with using your smartphone to track your sleep is that in order for the app to work, the phone must be nearby.  For many (if not most), a nearby smartphone will sabotage our attempts to sleep, not help them.  Let’s look at just a few of the problems inherent to having a smartphone on your bedside:

  • Sounds from notifications can keep you awake or even make you sit up and check on them.  If you turn off the sound on the phone or put the phone on “vibrate,” the screen still lights up every time you get an email or a text.  This can be distracting.
  • The smartphone screen itself can harm your sleep cycle.  Smartphones, tablets, computers and some televisions give off blue light, which tells your brain that it is time to wake up.
  • Even if you turn off all notifications, there will be a temptation to check your phone to make sure no “important” emails, texts, Facebook posts or Tweets need your attention.  A growing number of people are reporting a fairly new type of sleep disorder called “sleep texting”.  Individuals who sleep text will send notes to their friends and family without having any recollection of doing it.

So, what can you do if you want to track your sleep? Do it the old fashioned way, perhaps with a little help from technology. Keep a paper and pencil by your bedside.  When you wake up in the morning, record your sleep conditions (temperature, light, etc.), when you went to bed, when you woke up, how you think you slept, how many times you think you awoke during the night, and how you felt when you woke up.  You can keep track of these on paper, or enter them into a smartphone app in the morning.  Most have a way to manually track your sleep.

Most importantly, while you’re sleeping do what and the Washington Post recommend, and banish your phone from the bedroom.