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“I’m never far from my smartphone, I even keep it next to my bed. I do everything on it. I’ll generally check my emails (both work and personal accounts) before I settle in bed. Then I might visit a few websites, watch a video on YouTube or maybe waste a bit of time on Facebook. I use the smartphone as an e-reader too, I try to read a chapter or two of a book before switching the lights off and trying to sleep. Funny thing is, even though I’ve been in bed for well over an hour and I feel tired, I just can’t get to sleep.”

If this sounds familiar then you probably need to have a think about your relationship with your smartphone. Although they are truly amazing gadgets - a camera, computer, entertainment centre, games machine, and phone all rolled into one - many people are finding that excessive use of smartphones or tablet computers during the evening is affecting their sleep.

Like a television or a computer monitor, smartphone and tablet screens are light-emitting devices. This means that you can see the screen in a dark room without any additional light. What the makers of these devices don’t tell us is that the stream of light photons from the screen will send the message to our brain not to secrete melatonin, the hormone that tells us when it is time to go to sleep. To put it simply, the light-emitting device keeps the brain awake and active. Switching the device off is all very well, but it can take up to an hour after switching off the screen for the brain to relax and prepare itself for sleep.
Some devices are now equipped with a “blue light filter” or “bed mode” which can help to filter out some of the light photons that affect sleep. However, if we are really serious about trying to improve the quality of our sleep, we should aim to avoid any light-emitting device (including televisions) for at least 45 minutes before ‘lights-off’ time. Establishing a ‘bedtime routine’ may seem rather childish, but it can be a useful way to train your brain to prepare itself for sleep. Readers with children will know how effective establishing a routine can be and also the challenges faced when the routine is interrupted. The National Sleep Foundation claim that reading can be a part of a relaxing bedtime ritual that prepares the brain for sleep. Avoid reading from a light-emitting device and read from a book, magazine or e-reader (with a liquid ink display).
Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours sleep per night and we should never underestimate the health benefits, both physical and mental, of ensuring that we get a good night’s sleep. Healthy sleep hygiene is strongly linked improved cognitive abilities, including memory, judgement and perception. In the short term, insufficient sleep can affect mood and the ability to learn and retain new information. In the longer term, insufficient sleep is linked to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other life-threatening conditions.   

Taigh Sàmhchair: professional counselling and psychotherapy
Hereward Proops MBACP, registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
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