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Mobiles and Melatonin: Social Media Causes Insomnia & Methods to Help Stop the Worry Before Bedtime

It’s well-established that looking at phone screens can impact sleep. Mobiles emit mostly blue light, and these wavelengths are particularly good at keeping us productive and focused, so perfectly suited for daytime phone usage.

At night-time, however, this is not ideal. At its simplest, exposure to light tells us to be awake, so looking at a bright light from a phone just before bed is telling your body it is still time to be awake and not sleep time.

In the hours leading up to bedtime, as natural light levels decrease, our brains start to produce a hormone called melatonin, which causes our alertness to begin to dip. It signals to our bodies to wind down and prepare for sleep.

The blue light emitted by mobile phones affects your melatonin levels more than any other wavelength does. It signals to your brain that it is daylight, melatonin production is suppressed and sleep becomes delayed.

Without melatonin signalling to us that we are sleepy, we remain awake and alert, in a state of ‘cognitive arousal’.

6 Ways To Shut Off Your Brain Before Going To Sleep

If you have trouble falling (or staying) asleep, you should read this. When it comes time for bed, the last thing you want to do is spend your time tossing and turning under the sheets, thinking about all the tasks you have to accomplish tomorrow or what happened in the beginning of your day.

The best way to fall asleep is to be relaxed, but many people get into bed still feeling like their mind is racing and reeling. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it’s hard to get your brain to stop.

“One of the keys to getting a good night’s sleep is preparation,” says Dr. Susan Blum, Functional Medicine practitioner. “A good nightly wind-down routine will not only help you to fall asleep, but will also help you to stay asleep.” Nighttime habits are important for relaxing your mind, so it’s helpful to know what can help switch your brain off and what actually can make sleeping worse. For an easy and relaxing time getting to sleep, try these six ways to shut off your brain before bed.

1. Turn Off All Electronics “Begin at least an hour before bedtime by turning off any electronics such as the television, computer, smart phone, iPad, etc.,” says Blum. “The light from the screens and the stimulation of watching them literally keep your brain in the ‘on’ position.”

2. Make A List “Purging your brain of the days worries is one of my favorite strategies for ‘overthinking’ and insomnia,” says Sharon C. Martin, LCSW. “You can either keep a more formal journal or simply jot down whatever is on your mind for 5-10 minutes right before bedtime.”

3. Create A Bedtime Ritual “Our bodies and our brains respond well to patterns, so I task clients early on to start creating a ritual or pattern around their bed time,” says E.J. Smith, M.S., NCC, LPC. “It tells your body and your mind that it’s time to start going to sleep. For example, setting up the coffee pot, putting the phone away, brushing your teeth, taking a few minutes to journal, meditate or pray, etc.”

4. Read Reading is a great way to lull yourself to sleep before bed, as research shows that reading can reduce stress levels by up to 68 percent. “Make sure you read with traditional lighting, so called ‘warm’ light with more energy in the red end of the spectrum,” says psychologist Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D. “That convinces the brain it is sundown and time to quiet down.” 5. Take A Hot Bath Or Shower “Take a hot bath or shower,” says psychologist Venessa M. Perry. “The water will soothe you and relax your tired body. Washing the day off you will go a long way in settling down for the night.” Studies show that bathing in hot water before bed can help you fall asleep faster and experience better sleep.

6. Try A Muscle Relaxation Exercise

Progressive muscle relaxation has been around since the 1920s, and it has been said to help with insomnia. “Lie on your back and bring all your attention to your body,” says mindfulness trainer Joy Rains.

“Begin a process of gently tightening and releasing each muscle group, starting with your feet and working your way upwards to the top of your head. Hold each muscle as tightly as you can for about 5 seconds, then release it completely and see if you can notice the difference between the muscle tightened and the muscle relaxed. Move onto the next muscle until you’ve relaxed your entire body.”

Cognitive arousal: getting wound up when you should be winding down!

When you go to bed, your brain is preparing for sleep, but by looking at social media, you are providing endless stimulation, signalling to your brain and body to remain active and keep engaged.

It’s not simply the fact that you’re looking at social media which keeps you awake, the type of content has a big impact too.

How it affects you emotionally (for example, after viewing a sad video), socially (a group chat on WhatsApp) and cognitively (reading content that gets you thinking) are all very important in determining the knock-on effects it has on sleep.

Passively scrolling through a newsfeed before turning off has less repercussions on your sleep than engaging in, for example, a heated debate on a subject you’re passionate about.

Similarly, photo-sharing platforms (generally more passive participation) will have less impact on sleep than those which actively engage their users to respond, such as messaging sites.

This comes down to how much involvement the interaction calls for. Looking at photos can be done quite serenely. Debating global politics is going to call for a more involved interaction.

The take home from this is that if you must use social media before bed, try to avoid areas that will stimulate you and demand high levels of engagement.

Delayed bedtime: time spent surfing should be spent snoozing

How many times have you thought you’d just quickly check your social media account before going to sleep, only to find yourself falling down a rabbit hole of entertaining videos, photos, funny comments, chatting with friends, reading newsfeeds…? And just like that, an hour or even two have passed.

When we finally put down our phones, it also takes us longer to fall asleep, the quality of sleep is reduced and you wake up feeling sleepy and unrefreshed.

Your bedtime has been displaced and additionally, you’ve lost some valuable sleep time, so your sleep duration will generally be shorter. Sleep displacement by social media is well-recognised amongst adolescents, and recent studies are beginning to show similar effects across adult age groups, too.

For people still in education, who have early start times, this is a particularly bad combination. For adults, this often leads to later wake-up times and has a knock-on effect on time available to complete tasks over the coming day.

Fear of missing out (FOMO)

A study from 2012 found that young people spend 54% of their internet time on social media10. In teenagers, the fear of missing out (#FOMO) and social disapproval are driving forces in the use of social media at night time. If you’re not connected, then you’re missing out; everybody else is online, so why are you not?.

Studies are starting to show similar results in adults; FOMO is definitely not unique to teenagers.

Sadly, FOMO can feel like a no-win situation: you log off, but feel guilty because you’re no longer responding immediately, you can lose sleep worrying about what you’re missing and what people will think of you for not being available.

Or, you stay online and your sleep is compromised, you’re setting yourself up for anxiety, poor focus and increased risk of depression.

Denying yourself sleep in order to appear constantly online is just sabotaging your own well-being. Sleep deprivation can negatively affect your health in so many different ways.

There is no need to feel like you have to be available 24/7; we need to move away from these ways of thinking. Logging off or taking a break is totally fine. The bottom line is simple: we all need to sleep.

Denying yourself sleep in order to appear constantly online is just sabotaging your own well-being. Sleep deprivation can negatively affect your health in so many different ways.

Time to delete social media, take out the trash, and get some Zz's!

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