The technology revolution has been gaining momentum.  In recent years, the constant use of smartphones has become our way of life.  Not that long ago, all advanced technology devices and systems were initially available only through IT departments or other exclusive markets.  By the time technological advances reached the general public, many of the health concerns associated with the product were already known.  However, we now live in a world in which the general public is the first consumer to use the latest electronic technologies.  While access to this technology and these devices has provided convenience and increased efficiency, it is not without some challenges.  With the rapid advancement of technology, the concern of public health effects has come to the forefront.  It is our responsibility to ensure that we use this technology in the safest manner possible.

Disruption of Sleep & Mood Regulation
There is no shortage of evidence showing the importance of adequate and restful sleep.  One of the common concerns regarding new technological devices is that they can be very disruptive to normal life processes including sleep and natural mood regulation.  We now live in a society where it is common to walk into a room in which every person present is on their smart phone or a similar device.  Some may be posting to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, while others are responding to emails or scheduling appointments.

According to Dr. Sara Lappe, MD, this type of behavior by adults is setting a poor example for the youth who are watching and then rapidly following suit.  As parents tend to spend more time focusing on their phones, tablets, and laptops, they are communicating to their children that the electronic devices are more important and more interesting than human interaction.  In turn, the children will invest themselves into their own devices.  This can become an addiction when the child becomes dependent on the device.

There is scientific literature showing that increased screen time is associated with a number of adverse health conditions including:

  • Behavior problems
  • Reduced physical activity
  • ADHD
  • Childhood obesity
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Poor performance in school

Limiting Exposure to Electronics in the Bedroom
Many sleep experts and medical professionals are advising people to limit their use of electronic devices in the bedroom.  Use of electronic devices in this setting puts a person at risk for being enticed to use these devices rather than getting the sleep that they need.  The driven career person may find themselves responding to emails and working from home late into the night.  Other people may find themselves texting, playing games or watching videos far longer than they intended.

One reason electronics interfere with sleep is their cognitive stimulation.  The more cognitively stimulated the person becomes, the more difficult it is for them to fall asleep.  Another reason to avoid electronics near bedtime is their ability to heighten physical tension, even with simply watching a video or responding to an email.  This tension may be interpreted by the body as stress, triggering the release of stress hormones such as cortisol.  This can trigger the fight or flight response, which is accompanied by the release of adrenaline.  It is impossible to sleep well with elevated levels of adrenaline in the bloodstream.  In addition, prolonged elevation of cortisol can negatively impact many bodily functions.

The tension associated with using electronic devices can also contribute to mood swings.  Learning to limit the use of electronic devices, particularly at specific times of day, can help regulate mood and result in better sleep.  The closer it is to bedtime, the more use of these devices should be limited.

For more information, visit Careworks.

Author:  Jackie Borst, PA-C