For many of us, screen time is a part of our bedtime routine. Maybe we watch an episode of Netflix in bed or scroll on our phones after turning out the lights. But we’ve probably all heard screen time and sleep aren’t exactly the best of friends.
But it’s not as clear-cut as that. In fact, screens may not be as bad for your sleep as we’ve been led to believe — as long as you use them in the right way.
Below, we’ll dive into the science behind screen time and sleep and whether you should avoid your phone and other devices before bed. Plus, we’ll cover how the RISE app can help you get a good night’s sleep, with or without pre-bed screens.
Screen time includes any time you spend in front of a screen. This could be your cell phone, TV, laptop, tablet, or e-reader. From the scientific evidence we have, it seems screen time before bed does have an impact on sleep.
Research from 2022 found that roughly every five minutes you spend on your smartphone in bed, your sleep can be delayed by four minutes, and every 10 minutes of smartphone use in bed can cause your total awake time to increase by nine minutes.
It also found that 30 minutes of smartphone use lead to 20 minutes less deep sleep, 30 minutes less light sleep, and 10 minutes more rapid-eye-movement sleep (REM sleep). Or, 30 minutes of smartphone use can lead to an hour of sleep loss each night.
Research published in 2021 found those with increased electronic device usage during the COVID-19 lockdown showed:
On the flip side, those who got less screen exposure showed improved sleep quality and insomnia symptoms.
A 2022 systematic review had similar findings and concluded, “COVID-19-related lifestyle changes, such as increased screen time, may negatively affect sleep health.”
Heads-up: One important thing to note, this research comes from a survey done during the pandemic, so it’s hard to tell if increased screen time caused these sleep problems, or if COVID, anxiety, and lifestyle changes like working from home, doing less exercise, and socializing less were at play.
Many of us think of our phones as the main culprit, but TV time may also be damaging to sleep. A 2015 study found each additional hour of sitting while watching TV was linked with greater odds of a sleep onset latency of 30 minutes or more, waking up too early in the morning, poor sleep quality, and a high risk for sleep apnea.
In short, it seems screen time could impact your sleep, and it could become a vicious circle. If screen time before bed cuts into your sleep, you’ll become sleep deprived. And this sleep deprivation can tank your self-control and willpower, and increase your odds of procrastination, making it even harder to resist staying up late with screens the next night.
But while there are studies showing the negative impacts screens have on sleep, the jury’s still out. There is some evidence that screen time before bed could actually help you get better sleep (more on that soon).
And screens before bed can be useful. They can be enjoyable and help you relax, and you may use your phone to track your sleep. For example, RISE works best when it’s nearby to track your sleep (although, if you prefer to keep your phone out of your bedroom, RISE can get your sleep data from a wearable device instead).
More research needs to be done into the impact of screens before bed. But here’s why they may get in the way of a good night’s sleep.
Here’s a theory you might have heard of before. Screens — including your phone, TV, laptop, and even e-readers — give off blue light, a short wavelength of light. And this blue light can interfere with sleep.
Light suppresses the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. And while all light can have this effect, our eyes may be more sensitive to blue light.
Without high enough melatonin levels, you may find it harder to drift off. Your circadian rhythm, your body’s roughly 24-hour internal clock, is pushed back. This messes up your sleep-wake cycle and can lead to sleep loss and low energy the next day.
A 2020 study found longer exposure to screen light in the evenings leads to longer sleep latency on work days and more sleep inertia, or morning grogginess.
Screen light 1.5 hours before bed or during nighttime awakenings was linked to decreased subjective sleep quality, larger social jet lag (when you go to sleep at different times on your work days and days off), more daytime dysfunction, and more fatigue.
On the other hand, those who used blue-light blocking glasses in the evening slept for longer on weekdays.
The study concluded: “Our results are in line with other studies that converge to show the negative association of evening and night exposure to short-wavelength light on subjective and objective sleep parameters.”
A small 2017 study exposed participants to two hours of light from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. The results showed those exposed to short wavelengths of light (like blue light from screens) had disrupted sleep continuity (waking up in the night) and more self-reported daytime sleepiness.
Their melatonin production decreased, as did the drop in body temperature needed before bed to fall asleep. Light intensity also negatively impacted sleep, but it wasn’t as disruptive as wavelength.
When it comes to which screens are most disruptive, some experts say phones may impact your sleep the most as they’re held closer to your face than a TV.
The light around your screen also makes a difference. A 2019 study found night-time screen use was linked to poor sleep, but it was even worse when screens were viewed in a dark room versus a lit room.
We’ve covered more on the best color light for sleep here, including the best color light to use in the evening and at night.
It’s not all about the light coming off of the screen. What you’re looking at on the screen may be keeping you up, too.
You want to feel relaxed in order to fall asleep. But scrolling through stressful news stories, watching a fast-paced action show, or playing a violent video game probably won’t leave you feeling that calm.
Stressful content can cause a spike in the stress hormone cortisol, which can give you an energy boost — not exactly what you want before bed.
Positive content can also be disruptive, though. It can trigger the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, which excite the brain. Again, not the state you want to be in before sleep.
Research from 2022 found smartphone use in bed leads to increased sleep latency, higher average heart rate, and lower heart rate variability (a sign of poorer heart health). And smartphone use can lead to more time awake during the night and less sleep time in total.
But what participants were doing on their phones made a difference:
One thing to note, there’s no consensus definition for sleep quality yet.
Research also shows passive screen time (like watching TV) may also be better than active screen time (like playing video games).
And when it comes to online video games, FOMO — fear of missing out — may keep you awake as you don’t want to switch off the device if your friends are still playing.
Another factor to be aware of? Multitasking with screens (think watching TV while scrolling on your phone) may be worse than using just one screen at a time. A 2022 study found screen time an hour before bed was linked to an earlier bedtime and — if it didn’t involve multitasking and took place in bed — resulted in more sleep time.
If you’re watching something interesting or scrolling through engaging social media, it’s all too easy to keep watching, keep scrolling, and stay up long past bedtime. And if the blue light and arousing content don’t impact your sleep, the simple act of staying up late will.
A 2021 study looked at the effects of using social media for 30 minutes before bed and controlled for blue light exposure. It found social media use didn’t increase arousal or impact participants’ sleep. But, the researchers noted, it could keep people up later simply because they’re scrolling instead of sleeping.
Sometimes you don’t even notice this happening. You might sit to scroll for five minutes before bed and before you know it it’s been 45 minutes.
But other times, you might know exactly what you’re doing. This is called revenge bedtime procrastination — or staying up past your bedtime despite having no real reason to. You might have had a long day of work and personal errands and want to stay up late to get some me time, which often involves a screen or two.
As most of us have to get up at a set time for work or school, staying up late cuts into our sleep time. This leads to a build-up of sleep debt, the measure of how much sleep you owe your body compared to your sleep need, the number of hours of sleep you need. High sleep debt affects everything from your energy levels to your mood to your mental and physical well-being.
As well as cutting into your sleep time in general, you may miss your Melatonin Window if you’re spending time on your phone or in front of the TV before bed.
Your Melatonin Window is what we call the roughly one-hour window of time when your body’s rate of melatonin production is at its highest. Going to sleep during this window can give you the best chance of falling and staying asleep. Miss it because you’re staying up with screens and you may struggle to fall asleep.
RISE can work out your unique sleep need, how much sleep debt you’re carrying, and predict the timing of your Melatonin Window each night.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep need.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up a reminder to check their Melatonin Window.
When it comes to screen time before bed, we still don’t know exactly how much it affects our sleep.
The research we have on the subject has a few problems. Studies are often small and use self-reported data for screen use and sleep, which can be unreliable. They also often compare just one form of media, while people use screens in many different ways in real life. Plus, it’s hard to control for other factors that can impact sleep beyond screens.
It can also be a chicken and egg situation. Poor sleep may be linked to screen time, but perhaps people are spending more time on screens because they have poor sleep. If you can’t fall asleep, you may reach for your phone, for example.
It’s also not clear-cut. For example, blue light can disrupt your sleep, but it may all depend on something called recent photic history, or the recent light exposure you’ve had.
One study found prior dim light exposure made people more sensitive to light exposure at night. And another study found bright light exposure of 900 lux or 2,700 lux in the morning meant participants’ melatonin levels weren’t affected by light at night. But exposure to only 100 or 300 lux in the morning led to reduced melatonin levels when exposed to light at night.
For reference, bright daylight is about 10,000 lux, office lighting is about 500 lux, and a very dark day would be about 100 lux.
Yet another study looked at participants who got 6.5 hours of light (about 569 lux) during the day and then either read a physical novel or read on a tablet before bed for two hours.
The results showed there were no differences in sleep or melatonin levels when reading with or without a screen. The study concluded, “exposure to bright light during the day…may help combat sleep disturbances associated with the evening use of electronic devices emitting blue light.” (To note: e-readers may emit less blue light than our phones.)
When it comes to screen time before bed, kids and teenagers may be the worst offenders. Research shows electronic media use in bed after bedtime is more common in younger groups than older groups. Almost 62% of 18-to-29-year-olds report daily use, compared to just 3.7% of those aged over 60.
Research from 2022 found teens and young adults who spent more than two hours on their phones had higher odds of reporting sleep problems than those who didn’t use a smartphone in the past 24 hours.
And 2021 research shows screens — using phones, social media, video games, and even just having a TV in the bedroom — can lead to kids and teens getting less sleep at night.
Screen time may affect kids and teenagers in the same way it does adults:
But the effects may be greater. On a simple level, kids may have a harder time cutting themselves off from screens and forcing themselves to go to sleep.
But it may be biological, too. One study looked into screen time before bed amongst adolescents aged 15 to 17. It found that one hour of light exposure from screens can suppress melatonin by 23%, and two hours of exposure can suppress the sleep hormone by 38%.
The study states: “Compared to our previous studies, these results suggest that adolescents may be more sensitive to light than other populations.”
Teenagers also have higher sleep needs, so it’s even harder to get the sleep they need when screen time cuts into it.
A 2023 systematic review looked at 42 studies on screen time and young people aged 16 and 25. It found digital media use was linked to shorter sleep duration and poorer sleep quality. Mobile phone use in particular was associated with later bedtime and daytime tiredness.
So what should you do if you’ve got kids on screens? Some research recommends kids should avoid screens an hour before sleep, but we know that’s not always possible to enforce.
If you can, it may help them get more shut-eye, though. A 2019 study asked teenagers aged 14 to 18 to stop phone use an hour before bedtime for a week. This led to them turning off the light earlier and getting about 20 minutes more sleep a night.
The law may help this happen in some states soon. Utah recently approved a ban against under-18s using social media between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. without parental consent. The law will come into effect in March 2024.
But if you’re a parent, try not to stress too much — that’ll only affect your sleep. There is some research that shows it’s not all bad news when it comes to kids and screen time.
A 2018 study found each hour spent in front of screens was linked to less sleep — but only three to eight minutes less sleep. The study concluded: “Digital screen time, on its own, has little practical effect on pediatric sleep. Contextual factors surrounding screen time exert a more pronounced influence on pediatric sleep compared to screen time itself.”
What may be more important is overall sleep hygiene. More on that below.
And there may be some benefits to pre-bed screen time. One 2022 study found many teenagers use technology before bed as a distraction from negative thoughts. And as anxiety can keep you up, this may help them relax and get more shut-eye.
Screens before bed could keep you awake, but when exactly should you cut yourself off? Unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast rule as to when you should put down your phone and turn off the TV.
Sleep experts often recommend avoiding screens an hour or so before bed. But it will all depend on what you’re watching or doing on your devices, as well as how much light exposure you got during the day.
You may not even need a full hour or two. A 2020 study asked participants to avoid using their phones for 30 minutes before bedtime for four weeks. Compared to those who continued using their phones before bed, they had:
Why did this help? The researchers had two theories: “First, it could reduce the impact of light emitted by mobile phones on sleep. Second, reducing the arousal induced by mobile phone contents may also help sleep.”
Limiting screens could have knock-on effects beyond better sleep. A 2022 study looking at the effects of sleep on weight loss found limiting the use of electronic devices before bed helped participants get more sleep (which, if you’re interested, helped them eat fewer calories the next day, and so sleep could help in the fight against obesity).
For a sleep doctor’s advice, we turned to our sleep advisor and medical reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu.
“I recommend my patients avoid screens about an hour before bed. If you do use screens, make sure you use a blue light filter, you’re doing something relaxing, and keep an eye on the time, so you don’t stay up past bedtime. And get as much light exposure during the day to make nighttime light less impactful.” Rise Science Medical Reviewer Dr. Chester Wu
As there’s no set rule, why not try experimenting?
RISE can work out how much sleep debt you have. You can try avoiding devices in the hour before bed and see if that helps you fall asleep faster, lowering your overall sleep debt.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep debt.
You can’t be 100% sure screen time before bed won’t keep you up, but there are simple things you can do to reduce the odds.
If blue light is keeping you up, blue-light blocking glasses can help. It may sound like a wellness fad, but there’s actually scientific evidence behind them.
A 2017 study asked participants to wear blue-light blocking glasses for about four hours or so before bed for two weeks. At the end of the experiment, nighttime melatonin levels had increased, leading to better sleep. Sleep duration increased by 24 minutes and self-reported sleep quality improved, too.
Just be sure to not let blue-light blocking glasses be an excuse to use screens for longer, which can cut into your sleep time.
You can also try turning on the blue light filter on your devices and dimming the screen brightness.
We’ve covered more on the benefits of blue-light blocking glasses here.
RISE can remind you when to put on blue-light blocking glasses each evening.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their Wear Orange Glasses Habit notification.
Don’t get sucked into screen time so much you blast past bedtime and miss your Melatonin Window.
RISE can remind you of your Melatonin Window each night. You can set the reminder five to 30 minutes before the start of your target bedtime window.
You can also set your own bedtime alarm or set up a timer so your TV or Wi-Fi switches itself off. Some social media apps, like TikTok and YouTube, also have bedtime reminders.
These reminders require some self-discipline as they are easy to override. But research suggests reminders are useful in helping you get more sleep. In fact, RISE co-founder Leon Sasson and I worked on a study that found text message reminders with a bedtime can help teenagers get more sleep.
If you find yourself ignoring reminders, try implementing a rule where you only allow yourself screen time in your bedroom when standing up. After a short period of time, you’ll want to crawl into bed and will have to turn off the screen — although, again, some self-discipline is needed here.
Keep your phone outside of your bedroom if you need to and use an alarm clock to wake up. Or charge it on the opposite side of the room to stop yourself scrolling in bed.
Perhaps you watch one episode — and one episode only — of your favorite sitcom before bed. Or you catch up on the latest sports scores or real estate listings followed by 20 minutes of meditation and breathing exercises.
If your preferred screen time activity doesn’t have an ending — like scrolling social media — try making time for it earlier in the day. Scrolling over breakfast will be less harmful to your sleep, and you probably won’t be able to get sucked in as you’ve got to get to work or school.
Turn on “do not disturb” mode on your devices to avoid notifications distracting or arousing you before bed while you’re on your devices.
RISE can help you construct the perfect bedtime routine with relaxing activities to help you drift off.
Avoid the news, work emails, horror films, and stimulating video games.
If you’re watching TV, go for something episodic (when a story is told within one episode), so you don’t get hooked wanting to watch more. Consider watching a show you’ve seen before, so plot twists or cliffhangers don’t keep you up.
If you’re trying to decide what to do, go for passive screen time, such as watching TV, over active screen time, like playing games or being on your phone. Some research shows active screen use may impact your sleep more than passive screen time.
It’s easy to put a TV show on and then scroll on your phone at the same time. But screen time may be less impactful if you avoid multitasking.
Remember the 2022 multitasking with screens study we mentioned above? It found media use in the hour before bedtime was linked to an earlier bedtime and, when it didn’t involve multitasking and took place in bed, more sleep time.
But watch out, longer duration was linked to later bedtime and less sleep — so keep it to one episode or so, or a short amount of time on your device of choice.
Who’s guilty of switching off the lights and then scrolling on their phone? It turns out, this may be more damaging to our sleep than if we’d looked at a screen in a well-lit room.
We mentioned the study from 2019 above that found night-time screen use was linked to poor sleep, especially when screens were viewed in a dark room.
So, consider looking at screens while the lights are still on. Choose soft low lighting, rather than bright overhead lighting, however.
If you find yourself awake during the night, avoid looking at your phone screen (seeing the time may trigger anxiety) or switching on the TV. If you can’t fall back asleep, do a relaxing low-lit activity like reading until you feel sleepy again.
We’ve covered the best color light for sleep here, including why red light may be best.
Sleep hygiene is the name for the set of daily habits you can do to help you fall and stay asleep at night. Avoiding screens before bed, or being careful about how you use them, is just one part of the puzzle.
With good sleep hygiene, you’ll give yourself the best chance of falling asleep, even if you do indulge in screen time. And on the flip side, with bad sleep hygiene, you may find yourself awake long into the night, even when you cut yourself off from your devices.
Here are the healthy sleep habits to do:
The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day and tell you the best time to do each one to make them more effective.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications.
Screen time before bed gets a bad rap. While it can disrupt your sleep — blue light, arousing content, and cutting into sleep time are to blame here — it doesn’t have to.
Make sure you get plenty of light exposure during the day to reduce the negative effects of blue light at night. Then, choose relaxing content and set reminders to make sure you don’t stay up past bedtime.
Ensure the rest of your sleep hygiene is bulletproof to give yourself the best chance of falling and staying asleep, even if you use devices before bed.
The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits to help you fall and stay asleep. RISE can also walk you through relaxation techniques you can do before bed and tell you when your Melatonin Window is. All this will help you get a restful night’s sleep, with or without screens.
Yes, screen time can affect sleep. Research shows blue light exposure, arousing content, and the simple act of staying up late with screens can lead to later bedtimes, taking longer to fall asleep, and getting less sleep overall. But getting plenty of light exposure during the day and avoiding multitasking when on screens may reduce this effect.
Screen time can affect sleep as blue light exposure, arousing content, and the simple act of staying up late with screens can lead to later bedtimes, taking longer to fall asleep, and getting less sleep overall. But getting plenty of light exposure during the day and avoiding multitasking when on screens may reduce this effect.
There’s no set rule as to how long before bed you should stop using your phone. Research shows avoiding your phone 30 minutes before bed can help you fall asleep faster and get more sleep overall.
You can reduce screen time before bed by setting a reminder for when to turn off your devices and doing a relaxing screen-less activity instead like reading, journaling, yoga, or listening to music. Keeping devices out of your bedroom can also help.
Stop looking at your phone at night by charging it away from your bed or in another room and using an alarm clock instead to wake you up. Create a bedtime routine that includes phone-free activities before bed like reading, listening to music, yoga, or journaling.
It’s not clear whether it’s safe or not to sleep next to your phone. While phones emit radiation, this radiation isn’t thought to be dangerous. Your phone may keep you up at night, though, if you spend time scrolling and getting blue light exposure before bed. Try wearing blue-light blocking glasses, setting a bedtime alarm, or avoiding it in the 30 minutes or hour before bed.
RISE makes it easy to improve your sleep and daily energy to reach your potential
RISE makes it easy to improve your sleep and daily energy to reach your potential