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Brain; Mental Health; Prevention

6 tech tips to get a better night's sleep

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The majority of teenagers and adults use their phones right before bed and almost immediately after they wake up, according to recent studies.

It’s likely your smartphone is on your nightstand, within arm's reach for that late night text, ping, or email – 95% of us use electronics during the week before bedtime. 

Countless studies show that nighttime phone use can disrupt your sleeping pattern. Some smartphones give off a blue light that can suppress melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. And whether it’s checking social media or playing a game, using a mobile device keeps your brain stimulated and alert – two things you want to avoid when trying to fall asleep.

But for many of us, our phone keeps us connected and likely serves as an alarm clock. In today’s technologically driven society, it’s impractical to simply say mobile devices should be banned from the bedroom. So, what's a busy professional or teen to do?

Surprisingly, certain technology can actually promote a better night's sleep. From learning about key smartphone features to downloading slumber-inducing apps, use these tech tips to help you catch more Zzzs.

6 tips to get better sleep with technology

1. Decrease device stimulation before bedtime. If it’s difficult to limit phone or tablet use right before bed, research how to adjust certain settings on your device to reduce negative impacts on sleep. For example, adjust screen brightness or use your smartphone’s night mode feature to limit the amount of blue light you get. Some smartphones can do this automatically depending on the time of day. Having a hard time getting to sleep or staying asleep due to notifications and pings? Place your phone in airplane mode to minimize interruptions so you can rest peacefully. 

2. Download a sleep app on your smartphone. A plethora of smartphone apps are designed to help us fall and stay asleep. Many of these apps offer free, soothing music or relaxation exercises, such as guided imagery, that can help your busy brain quiet down. The American Sleep Association also has a list of its top seven sleep apps, including:

  • Relax Melodies: Plays a combination of guided meditation, melodies, and sounds to soothe you to sleep.
  • Pzizz: Uses music, sound effects and binaural beats, remixed each night based on what you like and dislike, to help you fall asleep.
  • Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock: Records your sleeping habits and rings to wake you up as you enter your lightest sleep phase.
Sleep device
There is a growing numbers of apps and smart devices that are designed to help you sleep.

3. Use your fitness tracker or sleep app to track and monitor your sleep patterns. While the accuracy of these trackers is not gold-standard, the data can provide insight into how you’re sleeping. If wearing technology to bed isn’t your thing, consider using an app such as Sleep Cycle that uses your phone's microphone to pick up on subtle noises, such as movement, while you sleep. Discuss any concerns with your doctor to figure out if you could benefit from more advanced sleep therapies or treatment.

4.  Avoid naps and increase daytime activity. Feeling that late afternoon lull? Instead of reaching for a caffeinated or sugary pick-me-up, take advantage of your devices' stimulating properties. A few minutes of browsing the web, chuckling at memes on social media, or playing a game can help you resist the urge to take an afternoon siesta. Staying active and alert during the day can help you sleep better at night.

5. Rather than limit technology, use it in your bedroom. For example, Dodow is a device that projects a soft, gentle, pulsating light onto the ceiling to which you can synchronize your breath. The goal is to slow your heart rate and gently lull you to sleep.

Another option is a smart bed. Certain types offer climate control, pressure adjustments, and even low frequency, sleep-promoting vibrations. If environmental noise or your partner’s snoring keeps you awake, consider using white noise (ambient noise) to create what the National Sleep Foundation calls "a soothing backdrop" to drown out bothersome noises.

6. Incorporate smart home tech. If you are concerned about your teen’s late-night social media binges or texts, put a “bedtime” on your WiFi by shutting it off at a certain time. Other home tech devices can automatically dim your lights depending on the time of day, creating a more sleep-ready atmosphere.

Can wrist bands diagnose sleep apnea

If you struggle with sleep, you may not like the idea of spending a night in a sleep laboratory to diagnose your condition. Researchers with UT Southwestern's Peter O'Donnell Jr. Brain Institute are testing whether medical devices you can wear on your wrist work just as well. 

Things to consider about using devices before bed

According to the American Sleep Association, 50 to 70 million U.S. adults have a sleep disorder, with insomnia being the most common specific condition.

Smartphone use at night is particularly of concern when it comes to teenagers. According to a study from consumer advocacy group Common Sense, about seven in 10 children with mobile devices sleep with them in their beds or within reach.

Related readingInsomnia: Don’t lose sleep over it

The study found that many teenagers use their phones right before bed and almost immediately after they wake up. Additionally, 68 percent of parents in the study believe their teens spend too much time on their mobile devices – 61 percent believe their teenagers are “addicted” to their devices.

So, when it comes to achieving better sleep, use tech in moderation. Educate your family members about why limiting mobile device use before bed is important. Or show them ways that their devices can be used to promote sleep – rather than hinder it. If they’re going to have tech in the bedroom, how can it reduce the negative impacts on their sleeping habits? 

Related readingHow pregnant moms can get better sleep

Consult a sleep specialist

It’s important to talk to a sleep specialist if you’re concerned about your sleep habits or a family member’s. At UT Southwestern, the University Hospital Sleep and Breathing Disorders Clinic uses a multidisciplinary, patient-centered approach – including sleep medicine (pulmonology and neurology) and behavioral sleep medicine (psychiatry and psychology) – to diagnose and treat sleep and breathing disorders.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for adults and teens to unplug from technology. As you consider using apps or devices to improve your sleep habits, talk with your doctor about how to make your devices useful rather than harmful.

To visit with a sleep specialist, call 214-645-8300 or request an appointment online.

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