Screen time is not as bad as we think

In this podcast (episode #592) and blog, I talk about screen time, sleep and what the research really tells us about technology use before bed. This is a replay of a Neurolive webinar I did on my app. For the full webinar AD-free, please see or look for Neurocycle on the App Store or Google Play.

As technology advances, our sleep duration decreases. Or, so we have been told. But, are these two phenomena directly connected? And does this apply to all age groups? When it comes to our circadian rhythm, is screen time always a bad thing? 

Many people have experienced a level of this happening in their lives. However, evidence over the past 10 years has actually shown that the link between technology and sleep is much more nuanced and complex than originally thought. In fact, the mechanisms commonly thought to explain why technology use would cause sleep problems, mainly through arousal and bright light, are not well supported by research. Most of the attention in researching this link between sleep and technology use has been done on adolescents and young adults, and studies in younger children and older adults are lacking, even though we know that different ages are affected by screen time and technology use in different ways.    

It seems that it’s not so much the tech, but rather how we are managing the tech. This is why it’s important to figure out how to tailor or customize the recommendations on technology use and sleep to what we need and when. However, as reporter Alex Janin notes, “This certainly doesn’t give a free pass to spend hours glued to a phone before bed. Some people might be more sensitive to blue light than others. And certain people won’t be bothered by engaging content, like video games, while others will find that even reading a printed book keeps them up.” We are all different, and have different needs!

When it comes to technology use and sleep, a key thing we need to remember is that technology is designed to keep us engaged, entertained, and in a flow state where we lose track of time. Awareness of this fact is the first step to take control. You can do this in a couple of ways: 

  • Be very selective about what you watch at bedtime. Stick to calming, relaxing, humorous and fiction-based content that is less engaging, and be careful of those cliffhangers and scary shows!
  • If you choose to keep technology in the bedroom, keep your devices on “flight mode” or “do not disturb” mode, or turn all unimportant notifications off.
  • Set a regular window of time for going to bed and rising, which helps regulate your circadian rhythm.
  • Be aware of the algorithms targeting you to keep you engaged. This awareness will help you make the decisions regarding the amount of time you spend online and what you chose to engage with before bed. 
  • Try to avoid checking your social media before bed. Worry and anxiety over missing out can result in negative arousal patterns before bed and can disrupt your ability to fall asleep. 

For more on screen time and sleep, listen to my podcast (episode #592). If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).          

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Podcast Highlights 

1:26 Is screen time really that bad for us?

3:15 Technology affects us all differently 

7:05 Why we all need to learn to manage how we use technology in our lives

13:00 Technology affects different age groups in different ways

14:02 Getting to the root of your sleep issues 

19:56 Ways to make screen time work for you 

This podcast and blog are for educational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional.

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