Screen Time Before Bed: Expert Roundup On Technology and Sleep
Screen Time Before Bed: Expert Roundup On Technology and Sleep
2 May 2024

Technology and Sleep: Is It OK to Use Electronics Before Bed?

What do you do before bedtime? Do you like to wind down with a TV show? Put on an old movie? Maybe you browse through the news on your phone or tablet? 

In the digital age, this is fairly common, as technology and sleep tend to go hand in hand. Children, adolescents, and adults all tend to use some sort of technology to wind down at the end of the day. But is this healthy? What are the effects of staring at a screen before bed?

We gathered what experts are saying about the effects of using electronic devices before bed, including a few studies related to screen time and sleep, as well as the effects on different age groups. If you’re looking for some relaxing things to do before bed, we provide low-tech and no-tech suggestions in the last section. 

One caveat that we need to mention: We’re not medical professionals. If you’re having trouble sleeping or think you have a sleep disorder, see your doctor. The information presented here is for informational purposes only.

Should I Use Electronics Before Bed?

The answer to this question isn’t a simple yes or no. The answer depends on your situation, sleep schedule, and regular before-bed habits. Let’s look at a few studies to get a clearer picture.  

In a small study conducted in July 2020, 1,062 US participants with sleep disorders were surveyed on their use of technology before bed, and 71.8% reported technology use before bed each night. The most common activity was watching TV before bed (70.2%) with checking social media (59.4%) and emails (31.8%) following (respondents were allowed to select multiple answers). 

The sleep disorders cited were insomnia (64.3% of respondents), sleep apnea (14%), and sleep paralysis (7.6%). As for using technology to combat sleep disorders, 33.6% of participants use a smart bed or mattress to help with their sleeping problems, and 32.7% use some sort of sleep app to help them get to bed. 

This study strongly suggests that most people with sleep disorders tend to use technology, in one way or another, before going to bed. Of course, it’s tough to say that there’s a direct correlation between technology use and having a sleep disorder. For example, it’s possible that respondents already have some sort of sleep disorder and simply use technology as a coping mechanism when they can’t get to bed. 

The Sleep Doctor says that technology can sometimes adversely impact sleep, but the effect will be highly dependent on what device you’re using and how often you use it. For example, over stimulating content such as a violent movie, TV show, or video game may make it harder for you to calm down before bed. They say that technology that’s very interactive (playing a game, texting, or video chatting) or that makes you lose track of time can potentially cut into your bedtime, leading to missed hours of sleep.

The Sleep Doctor’s piece gives a few tips for improving sleep:

  • Reduce the use of electronics in the bed; the bed should just be for sleeping
  • Minimize exposure to blue light, which suppresses melatonin production
  • Engage with passive electronic content (TV shows, movies, and music) rather than active content (video games, chatting)
  • Set limits on technology use around bedtime to not lose track of time. 

Listen to your body: If you have trouble sleeping and use a lot of electronic devices before bed, experiment with using less or no technology before bed for a few nights to see what happens. Understand what technology does and doesn’t do to your sleep schedule. 

What Should My Child’s Screentime be Before Bed?

While the effects of screentime and sleep vary in adults, it has far greater consequences on children. In a study conducted on bedtime technology use and the associated sleep problems in children, 234 children were surveyed to understand how much technology they used compared to hours of sleep and inattentive behavior. While there wasn’t any connection between inattention and electronic devices, using a device at bedtime was associated with a reduction in sleep quantity and quality. 

This includes use of cell phones, computers, tablets, and gaming devices. Cell phones can be especially damaging as children can use them discreetly or even be woken up by them in the middle of the night. 

The study cites a few recommendations for reducing child screen time before bed: 

  • Talk to your child about their technology and media use.
  • Establish technology free zones (for the whole family!).
  • Reduce the amount of active technology usage before bed.
  • Have children stop using their devices 30 to 60 minutes before bed.

For more reading on the effects of technology on children, read Mayo Clinic’s “Children and screen time,” which summarizes links between too much screen time and childhood obesity, sleep disorders, behavioral problems, academic impairments, violence, and less play time.  

Sleep Better At Night: Things To Do Before Bed

So if you’ve linked electronic device use to sleep problems, or you simply want to find a different way to unwind at the end of the day, what are some healthier alternatives to getting ready for bedtime? 

A search for “how long before bed should you turn off electronics” delivered mixed results. recommends 30 minutes. recommends 1 hour. A Cleveland Clinic article suggests 1 to 2 hours. Most sources agree that we all should avoid or severely limit doomscrolling!  

Watching a comfort TV show, a relaxing movie, or listening to calm music are all examples of passive technology that don’t require specific interaction. While it’s possible that the screen, especially blue light, can affect your vision and sleep, many people regularly engage with a passive device to get to bed. Some people swear by setting a timer to fall asleep while watching the TV. If you don’t have a headache in the morning after staring at a screen before bed, this could be a great option for you, particularly if you’re switching over from active technology. Ambient YouTube videos have become a popular trend in recent years.

Reading is a great way to wind down before bed — if the book isn’t very exciting or gripping! Books on calming topics that you’re interested in or that you’ve already read are great choices for nighttime reading. Be careful when reading especially gripping fiction, as you may end up staying up even later!

White noise, simple music, and other sleeping sounds can help ease your heart rate and make you sleepy. If you’re in a noisy city or are bothered by small noises in the middle of the night, a passive calm sound to focus on can help you drift off to sleep. Many smart speakers will play white noise (“Alexa play white noise,” “Hey Siri, play white noise”). You can find white noise playlists on music streaming services (search for “white noise”), or, if you’re into gadgets, look for white noise devices on Amazon or your favorite electronics seller.

A common strategy that many people use to get to bed is doing a full body muscle relaxation as they lie in bed. In this technique, you start at your feet and try to relax all of your muscles. You slowly focus on relaxing different parts of your body higher and higher until you get to your bed. This can be paired with slow, rhythmic breathing to calm down when feeling anxiety about life or the next day. 

Tangential to our previous idea, taking a bath or shower can be a more proactive solution to calming down for bed. The warm water will directly help relax your muscles and calm you down. You can even pair this with the above muscle exercise, passive technology, or calming music and sounds. 

If your mind is racing before bed, independent of your body, you can try to think of something easy and relaxing that puts your mind at ease. If you walk through your day, think about one of your favorite stories, or tell yourself a story; you may be able to get your mind away from stressful or anxious thoughts. If something is specifically keeping your mind awake when in bed, try to gently move your thoughts away from it when your mind strays back. 

What are your favorite strategies for going to bed? What does and doesn’t work for you? Everyone’s experience with sleeping is different, and we encourage you to experiment with different solutions to improve your sleep schedule.