Students' technology addiction disrupts sleep


With the ever-increasing presence of social networking, negative side effects like disrupted sleeping patterns seem to be growing, too.

“Having a smartphone in your bedroom creates a number of problems,” Justin Thomas, a doctoral candidate in the University’s psychology department, said. “A lot of people get on websites and social media, which is a form of social interaction, right up until they go to sleep.”

Thomas said another issue is getting phone calls, text messages and notifications in the middle of the night, similar to being a medical resident who is always on call.

“Instead of relaxing and trying to go back to sleep, they check to make sure they’re not missing anything,” Thomas said. “They feel like they need to be in touch with the world 24/7, and it’s a bad thing. It allows them to surf the Internet so their mind doesn’t shut off naturally before bedtime, which pushes their bedtime back further.”

UA graduate Lauren Ault said she uses her phone as an alarm clock, so she sleeps with it beside her.

“I also fall asleep watching Netflix on my phone every night,” Ault said. “Something about that extra background noise helps me to sleep and stay asleep better than just silence.”

Ault said she tends to use her phone right up until she falls asleep each night.

“If I wake up in the night, I check to see what time it is, and if I have texts or notifications, I check those sometimes,” she said.

Presley Morgan, a senior majoring in accounting, said she also uses her phone right up until she goes to sleep each night.

“Normally right before I go to sleep I check my Twitter one more time, then close out my apps and try to go to sleep,” Morgan said.

Morgan said sometimes if she wakes up in the middle of the night and has the urge to check her phone, she will look at pictures on Instagram or use the Internet to check celebrity news.

“It’s a bad habit to have developed because you can’t just put your phone down and go back to sleep because your brain has to re-enter that ‘sleep’ mode,” Morgan said. “If you have your phone lying on your bedside table, it’s a temptation to grab it in the middle of the night to see what’s going on.”

Thomas said his recommendation is to gain control over technologies students may be using for assistance but to also turn your devices off before bed.

One way students can make sure they are getting proper sleep is to allow a 30- minute to one-hour window of time to wind down and prepare for bed each night, Thomas said.

“You need to shut down the world and put social media devices down,” Thomas said. “Allow your body and mind time to wind down before bed.”

According to a June 2013 study published by the Mayo Clinic, the brightness of the devices people are using and the distance they hold it from their face can negatively affect the amount of melatonin a body produces. Melatonin is a hormone that helps control the natural sleep-wake cycle.

The study showed that if the device is on a low light setting and is held at least one foot away from the user’s face, it reduces the risk that the user’s melatonin level would be affected to the point it would disrupt sleep.

Moreover, Thomas said lack of sleep produces many negative side effects, including health, general illness and different effects on cognitive performance.

“When students deprive themselves of sleep, they can experience symptoms very similar to those of ADHD,” Thomas said. “It negatively affects memory, concentration and a whole host of cognitive problems.”

According to a July 2013 Huffington Post article, lack of sleep can not only make someone cranky or irritable and contribute to higher levels of anxiety and depression, but it can impair the frontal lobe of the brain which can interfere with cognitive processes called executive functions. When these executive functions are affected, judgment, critical thinking, relationships, problem solving, planning and organization can all take a turn for the worse.

Thomas said eventually, when a person deprives himself of herself of sleep, they won’t perform as well in the classroom, and this can manifest in the form of depression or health-related problems like stomach issues.

“When people start getting busy, sleep and eating and all of the basic functions get thrown on the back burner,” Thomas said. “People cut back on eating proper meals and getting enough sleep, because it’s a natural tendency.”

Thomas said when he is working with young adults, he stresses to them that they need at least eight hours of sleep per night or more.

“People go through their lives constantly sleepy and fatigued because they don’t know how much sleep they really need,” Thomas said. “College students and most young adults around the age of 18 even up to the mid-20s need more sleep than the typical eight hours of sleep you hear about. Most people need 10 at that age.”

Ault has insomnia, which frequently prevents her from being able to sleep and causes her to spend most nights tossing and turning. However, when she does get a good night’s sleep, Ault said she needs an average of six to seven hours to feel well-rested.

“During the school year, since I’m a teacher, it isn’t unusual for me to be in the bed by 8:30 or 9 p.m. every night and be up between 5 and 5:30 a.m.,” Ault said. “I unfortunately never sleep through the night. It’s mostly spent tossing and turning, and I don’t let myself take naps during the school year.”

Thomas said a major factor to examine when a student is having trouble sleeping is how much they procrastinate.

“The more you procrastinate, the more likely it is you’ll pull an all- nighter, which can screw up your sleep,” Thomas said. “If you’re not pulling an all-nighter, you’re staying up late the three nights leading up to a test.”

He said it is also important to keep weekday and weekend sleep schedules as consistent as possible.

“Students have one bed time and wake time during the week, and one that’s completely later on the weekend,” Thomas said. “Shifting back and forth is not good for the body. It’s a tough thing to recommend, but consistency is the key for a lot of sleep problems.”

Thomas said if a student’s sleep problems are causing them to have anxiety or depression, they should seek help from the psychology clinic or the Counseling Center, or from the Sleep Center so they can learn specific techniques to improve their sleep.

“You need to understand how much sleep you need and make it a priority,” Thomas said.


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