Trouble Sleeping? Break This One Habit.
Gillian White – MSc, PhD (C), University of Toronto, Department of Exercise Sciences
If you aren’t reading this article on your phone right now, I’m willing to bet that your phone is at least in eyesight or a pocket. Our phones provide a convenience that would have seemed fit for sci-fi or fantasy a matter of decades ago. They allow us to have the whole world literally at the touch of a (not even real because it’s on a touchscreen) button.
Although it’s hard to even fathom living without the convenience that our smart phone provides, there has always been some lingering concerns amongst some researchers and medical professionals about their potential health impacts. And not “health impacts” like social health impacts – I mean the direct health consequences of the technology itself: Energy, radiation, cellular waves and their effects on our body’s cells.
The Cellular Phone Effect
While this might sound a little doomsday-ish or the kind of thing you’d rather just not know, I’m going to focus on one particular habit that nearly everyone does.
One innocuous use of our phones that is easy to fix, but you’re probably not even aware of: charging your phone over-night on your bed stand and/or using it as your alarm clock.
I am by no means the first person to suggest that this is a habit that we should break – it’s a common fixture of wellness blogs, mindfulness practice, and how-to’s on workplace productivity. The common thinking is that when your phone is beside your bed, your brain is always scanning the environment for a beep or a buzz – some signal of communication requiring a reaction.
With your brain continuing to be vigilant while you’re trying to sleep, your ability to get into deep slow wave sleep that is essential for the brain and body’s health and function are impeded. Others have sources the blue light from electronics impairing melatonin release (a pro-sleep hormone).
Interestingly, there might be more to the story. And the research comes from a very unexpected source: a high-school science fair.
The High-School Science Fair Research
A group of girls at a high-school in Denmark have done a small study for a science project with results that have garnered attention from top academic researchers from all over Europe and North America.
Noticing that their ability to concentrate was not what it used to be (something that we can all relate to), they crafted a simple research question: when your phone is beside your bed, does the energy it emits interfere with brain cell function?
To answer this question, they used cress seeds (a rapidly growing herb) in a standard growth medium and set identical seed preparations in two different rooms: one beside an internet router emitting radiative energy equivalent to a cellular phone, and the other in a room of the same temperature and ambient conditions with no router.
They found that after less than two weeks, the seeds that had been beside the router didn’t grow at all, while the control preparation flourished as expected. This led them to the apparent conclusion that sleeping with your cellphone (or an internet router…) beside your bed is disruptive to active cells, which likely includes your neurons that are engaging in important repair and rejuvenation processes during sleep.
Left: Cress seeds located beside a Wi-Fi router; Right: Cress seeds located in room with same ambient conditions and no router.
While I’m sure the skeptics among us can come up with a million and eight reasons that this study doesn’t prove that your cellphone is interfering with your sleep, to you I say, you’re right, it’s true that we don’t know if or how harmful it is for your brain to be near your cellphone when you sleep, but would you rather put you brain in a possibly harmful or possibly flourishing environment?
I’ll gamble on flourishing. Because at the end of the day, how hard is it to part with your phone when you aren’t even conscious!?
Just plug it in the kitchen and call it a night.
Related Article: 7 Tips To Get You Sleeping Again
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