Technology and insomnia go together like pyjamas and pillows. Where there’s one, you’ll often find the other close by.
Over the last twenty years, we’ve gone from regarding a TV in the bedroom as a luxury associated with hotel rooms to treating internet access as an essential utility.
We make excuses for the presence of tech in our bedrooms – “it’s my alarm clock”, “what if there’s an emergency”, “I feel better knowing it’s beside me”.
This technology then occupies us during the final hours and minutes before we (attempt to) go to sleep, contributing to a restless night of broken sleep, bad dreams and next-day fatigue.
A lack of sleep can increase the risk of obesity and diabetes, dementia and heart disease, as well as making us less safe behind the wheel and less productive in the office.
It can also increase anxiety about going to sleep in the first place – which we try to distract ourselves from by using…you guessed it.
Should I banish technology from my bedroom?
Given the strong links between technology and insomnia, there are good arguments for banning electronic devices from the bedroom.
You don’t need to watch Netflix when reading a book is demonstrably better for lowering alertness levels.
These are amplified by bright screens diminishing the human body’s ability to generate the melatonin hormone that helps us drift off to sleep.
This is particularly critical in the final hour before going to bed, allowing the brain to cool down and enabling circadian rhythms to regulate our instinctive 24-hour sleep-wake cycle.
Rushing to finish one last work-related email on a laptop is the antithesis of this, especially if you’re working in the same bed you’ll shortly be attempting to sleep in.
On the other side of the argument…
Not all technology is bad. A digital alarm clock shouldn’t harm your sleep, unless you tend to stare at it worrying about still being awake at [insert time] o’clock.
Passive electronic devices require minimal human input, and they aren’t inherently harmful compared to equipment demanding our attention and interaction.
Speaking of which, certain changes help to reduce the impact of computers, tablets and other devices on our sleep patterns.
Set a time limit; engage Dark/Night mode; dim the screen; keep a lamp on; turn the volume down; don’t wear bulky over-ear headphones that prevent you rolling over if you fall asleep.
Critically, stay away from gaming or social media platforms. The latter are specifically engineered to arouse emotions – a desire for approval, or anger at a controversial statement.
Games are inherently addictive, potentially disrupting your nightly routine and depriving you of sleep.
It’s usually best to turn the lights out around the same time every night, but that’s difficult when the next challenge/target/end-of-level boss is tantalisingly close.
Breaking the link between technology and insomnia
These are ways in which technology can become poacher-turned-gamekeeper, actively helping you to drift off.
Ambient soundtracks and playlists are readily available on platforms like YouTube and Spotify, often featuring repetitive melodies which lower your resting pulse.
Some people swear by white noise machines, which dampen background noise and counterbalance medical conditions like tinnitus.
Ionising fans cool you down while extracting pollen and dust from the air, and sunrise simulation clocks help to establish regular sleep patterns each morning.
If you love reading, a dedicated e-reader with the brightness minimised shouldn’t stimulate your brain too much, while reading is a soporific activity.
You can also buy blue light-blocking prescription-free glasses, whose lenses filter out both direct and peripheral light.