Why You Should Stop Sleeping with Your Phone Next to You (and What to Do if You Decide to Keep It)

Most of us sleep with our phone within reach. In fact, a 2015 report on “Trends in Consumer Mobility” showed that 71% of American adults regularly go to sleep with their phone next to them, meaning that they leave it on their nightstand, on their bed, or in their hands. It’s highly likely that this number has only increased since then, due to the increased prevalence of smartphones in our lives.

This is a problem, because keeping your phone next to you in bed can lead to a variety of sleep, health, and productivity issues. In the following article you will learn why you are better off putting your phone out of reach when you sleep, and what you can do to reduce its negative effects if you decide to leave it there anyway.


Literally a picture of a phone laying on a bed.


Why sleeping with your phone next to you is a problem

There are a few main reasons why keeping your phone within reach when you’re in bed is bad for you:

  1. You’re more likely to browse your phone, which makes it harder for you to fall asleep, and reduces your sleep quality. The negative impact of electronic-media usage before bedtime is well-document, and occurs due to a multitude of reasons.[1,2,3,4,5Because of this, avoiding using your phone and other electronic devices before you go to sleep is considered to be an important aspect of sleep hygiene, which improves your sleep quality.[6,7]
  2. It increases the temptation to use the phone if you wake up throughout the night. Normally, you would want to just go back to sleep. However, if you have your phone nearby, you now have the temptation to lie awake and browse Facebook (or perform any other pointless activity), until you eventually fall asleep again. This is obviously not good for your sleep.
  3. It makes it more likely that your phone will be the first thing you see in the morning. The same survey from earlier also shows that 35% of American adults check their mobile device as soon as they wake up; this number is likely higher among smartphone users and younger demographics. It’s not inherently a bad thing, but you should consider whether this is what you want for yourself, or of it’s only something you do out of habit. If you find yourself immediately jumping into email/Facebook/whatever as soon as you wake up, think about how this makes you feel in terms of anxiety and pressure, and about how this impacts your productivity, since you’re now starting your day by cramming this stuff into your head.

Because of these issues, it’s better if you keep your phone out of reach when you go to bed. The further it is, the less temptation you will have to look at it before, during, and after you sleep. You can also take into consideration how its placement will affect your morning routine, and put it somewhere where it won’t be one of the first things you look at in the morning.

If the main reason why you need your phone next to you is so that you can use the alarm to wake up, you should definitely consider getting a separate alarm clock instead.


What to do if you decide to keep your phone next to you

A lot of you will probably decide to keep using your phone in bed for various reasons, and that’s okay. Below are some simple tips which can help you reduce the issues associated with doing this:

  1. Use an app to filter out blue light from the phone screen. While exposure to light before bedtime is bad in general, exposure to blue light leads to the most issues in terms of sleep quality. By filtering it out, you solve a big part of the problem, without much effort on your part. Read this article to understand why blue light causes problems, and to get some simple recommendations on apps which filter it.
  2. Turn off the sound on your phone. This prevents late-night messages from interrupting your sleep or waking you up. Obviously, you should turn off ‘vibrate’ as well. If you must keep the alarm activated, most phones will allow you to disable general sounds while leaving the alarm sound enabled.
  3. Turn on airplane mode and turn off the WiFi. This can also help reduce the amount of sound coming from your device (with the potential exception of some notifications). More importantly, this removes the temptation to check messages/emails or to look at things online.
  4. Use an app that blocks other apps during set hours. This is especially helpful if you have a specific site/app that you know is problematic (e.g. something that you browse for hours to procrastinate going to sleep).


Summary and conclusions

  • Keeping your phone next to you in bed can lead to problems falling asleep and reduce sleep quality.
  • It can also cause anxiety and productivity issues if it’s the first thing that you look at in the morning.
  • If your main reason for keeping your phone within reach while you sleep is using it as an alarm, consider getting a separate alarm clock instead.
  • If you decide to keep your phone next to you, there are some things you can do to reduce its negative effects, such as using apps that filter out blue light, or turning on flight mode.


Fall Asleep Faster and Sleep Better by Reducing Blue Light Exposure Before Bedtime

In today’s world, late-night exposure to bright lights is one of the most common issues affecting sleep quality; this is often attributed to the widespread use of light-emitting screens.[1] Basically, when you check your phone, tablet, or laptop while lying bed, you’re making it more difficult for yourself to fall asleep, while also reducing your sleep quality.


Picture of a laptop, laying on a bed in a dark room, and emitting tons of blue light.


Why blue light is the main problem

Your devices emit light from all across the visible spectrum, which is the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to the human eye.[2The image below shows the wavelengths of light in the visible spectrum, as well as the wavelengths of ultra-violet light, which falls directly below the spectrum, and infra-red light, which falls directly above it.


The spectrum of visible light (colors and their wavelengths).


Light at the 450-470 nm range (i.e. blue light), has been found to be a strong signal for melatonin suppression.[3,4] Essentially, blue light gives your body circadian input, which tells it that it’s not yet time to go to sleep.[3,5] Overall, light at a shorter wavelength tends to lead to a greater suppression of melatonin production, which is why blue light, which has a relatively short wavelength, is so disruptive. Conversely, red light, which has the longest wavelength (of visible light), is the least disruptive to your ability to sleep.[3,4]


Reducing blue-light exposure

In theory, you want to avoid all types of light as much as possible before going to bed.[6] However, this isn’t really feasible, so the next best thing is to avoid blue light, which is the most detrimental to your sleep quality. One of the best solutions available are apps which filter out blue light emitted from your screens.[7,8This significantly reduces your blue-light exposure, without requiring any effort on your part (aside from downloading the app). The following are a few recommendations for free, high quality programs which do this:

  • For Windows / Mac / Linux: get Flux.
  • For Android: get the Twilight app.
  • For iOS: there’s a built-in Night Shift mode for this (ever since iOS 9.3).

These programs are all modifiable, so you can select your preferable level blue-light filtering, and set them to start up automatically at a specific time. In addition, an added bonus for using them is that they significantly help with eye strain if you tend to look at screens in a dark environment. Using your laptop with the lights off will be much more comfortable now, and you won’t have to feel like someone is aiming a projector in your eyes you when you look at your phone late at night.


Other sources of blue light

In addition to screens, blue light is emitted by other appliances, most notably fluorescent light bulbs and LED lights.[3] Unfortunately, the light coming from these sources can’t be easily filtered via an app. There are, however, some methods for reducing blue light exposure from these sources:

  • Replace these lights where possible.
  • Cover them with something that dims them, or only allows red light through (e.g. red, cellophane gift wrap).
  • Avoid exposure to such lights as much as possible before bedtime.

The last two points are applicable in general, even if the light source isn’t blue (e.g. incandescent light bulbs). Remember: the closer you are to going to sleep, the less light you want to be exposed to.


Summary and Conclusions

  • Exposure to light before bedtime makes it more difficult to fall asleep, and reduces sleep quality.
  • Blue light, which is emitted by screens and fluorescence bulbs, has the worst impact on your sleep.
  • Avoiding such light can help you fall asleep more easily, and sleep better.
  • Apps which filter out blue light from screens can help you do that without much effort.
  • You can also replace or cover blue/bright lights where possible, and avoid them before going to bed.