Here's Why You Shouldn't Sleep With Your Phone in Bed

For better sleep and your personal safety, set some limits when using your phone at night.

Addicted to social media girlfriend in pajama scrolling through cellphone while sitting in bed near sleeping boyfriend in modern bedroom at night
Ezequiel Giménez/Stocksy

You're far from alone if you find yourself texting or scrolling on your phone in bed. According to the Pew Research Center, as many as 65% of adults, and 90% of teens, sleep with their phones in sight.¹ Whether it's that update first thing in the morning, social media right before sleeping, or anything in between, checking your phone in bed can affect how much sleep you get and how restful it is.²

Getting good sleep is critical for both mental and physical health, and your phone can make that harder. Tempting as it may be to check in or hop online—to be available for those important emails, texts, or calls—there are many reasons to be careful about bedtime use.

Here's a quick overview of the risks of sleeping with your phone, and what you can do to check your habits and get better, sounder sleep.

Reasons to Keep Your Phone Out of Bed

There's a cost to staying connected and using your phone in bed. Researchers have consistently noted those who use devices frequently, especially at night, are more likely to report not enough and poor-quality sleep.² Though their overall safety is well established, cell phones may pose additional hazards, depending on how you use them. Here's a breakdown of why it's a good idea to keep your bed phone-free.²

Screens Disrupt Sleep Cycles

Cell phone and screen use have been directly linked to disruptions of your circadian rhythm, or natural sleep-wake cycle. As noted in research on children and adolescents, the blue light emitted by cell phones inhibits the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you drowsy.³ This lengthens the time it takes to fall asleep and reduces the overall duration of sleep.

Your sleep cycle includes REM sleep (a stage characterized by rapid eye movements and dreams), which helps with your memory and emotional processing. Along with reducing melatonin levels, nighttime exposure to blue light can reduce the length of REM sleep, which can make you feel less alert and take longer to be fully awake in the morning.²

In bed, or even before it, researchers have found exposure to the light from screens can impact sleep. A 2018 review noted that screen use within one to two hours of going to bed negatively impacted sleep, with the effect particularly pronounced in toddlers and children.³

Phones Stimulate Your Mind

It's not just the glow of the screen that interrupts sleep. Consider how you interact with your device. Phones are a boundless source of information and stimulation, which can provoke a state of arousal and alertness.² This can make it harder to fall and stay asleep.

Not only that, the interactive nature of smartphones or devices—that they require active controlling—seems to make matters worse. Some studies suggest nighttime phone usage, as well as other interactive devices like video games, have a more pronounced effect on sleep than more passive nighttime screen activities, such as watching TV.³

Phones May Pose a Fire or Burn Risk

Though very rare, only arising in isolated incidents, there is the risk of your phone's battery catching on fire. In 2021, The Daily Record in Glasgow, Scotland, reported that a man's three-week- old Samsung Galaxy AO2 burst into flames in his hand.⁴ An incompatible battery was to blame for a similar incident, in which a phone under a pillow caught fire in Dallas, TX in 2014.⁵

A phone explosion or fire in bed has the potential to cause significant harm. A recent review article noted that overheated or burning batteries have been linked with several cases of second-degree burns.⁶ This type causes pain, blistering and fluid discharges, and swelling, as well as sloughing, or the loss of the upper layers of skin. Because of the risk of serious burn injury, Samsung had to recall one million Galaxy Note7 phones in 2016.⁷

Getting Better Sleep

Knowing that phones can be hazardous to your sleep, it's important to think about what you can do to regulate and manage your use. Since technology can particularly impact teens and children, parents should be particularly mindful and ready to establish solid ground rules. What can you do to stop your phone from affecting your sleep? Here's a breakdown:⁸

  • Try to limit overall screen time: Not only have researchers found nighttime use to be a problem, they've linked poor sleep and overall time spent in front of screens.³ Figuring out ways to cut back on phone, device, computer, and/or TV time can help with sleep.
  • Make the bed a screen-free zone: Your bed should be for resting or sleeping only. Given the effects of the glow emitted by phones and the way they're stimulating, consider keeping devices and phones out of bedrooms, or placing a moratorium on use for at least an hour before bedtime. Never do work in bed.
  • Set up nighttime mode: If your phone is nearby, notifications and late-night texts can cut into your rest. Consider keeping your phone on nighttime- or do-not-disturb mode at night.
  • Create a ritual: A consistent and relaxing ritual before bed can also help make going to sleep easier. Try a relaxing bath, meditation, reading, or listening to relaxing music for a little while before climbing into bed. Keep your bedtimes consistent.
  • Adjust the lighting: Bright lights, such as 100-watt light bulbs, can reduce melatonin levels, making it harder to fall asleep. Keep the lighting in your bedroom dimmer and lower intensity.

Recap

Given how much they can do, it's little wonder that smartphones have integrated themselves into every aspect of our lives and, indeed, made it to our bedrooms. However, nighttime screen use negatively impacts sleep; it makes it tougher to fall and stay asleep and can interrupt your natural sleep cycles.²

Limiting nighttime and overall use and keeping your bed a comfortable, screen-free zone can help ensure better quality rest.⁸ Giving your body the sleep it needs is a critical part of maintaining your overall mental and physical health, and it may mean checking your phone habits. If you regularly experience trouble sleeping or are concerned about your device use, talk to your healthcare provider about what you can do.

Sources:

  1. Pew Research Center. Do you sleep with your cell phone?
  2. Rod N, Dissing A, Clark A, Gerds T, Lund R. Overnight smartphone use: a new public health challenge? A novel study design based on high-resolution smartphone data. PLoS One. 2018;13(10):e0204811. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0204811
  3. Hale L, Kirschen G, LeBourgeois M et al. Youth screen media habits and sleep. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2018;27(2):229-245. doi:10.1016/j.chc.2017.11.014
  4. Easton K. Mobile phone explodes after 'burning' Scots man's hand causing fire at home in 'petrifying' ordeal. Daily Record.
  5. Pujol R. Samsung phone burns up under Texas girl's pillow. Pix 11 News.
  6. Mankowski PJ, Kanevsky J, Bakirtzian P, Cugno S. Cellular phone collateral damage: a review of burns associated with lithium battery powered mobile devices. Burns. 2016;42(4):e61-e64. doi:10.1016/j.burns.2015.10.012
  7. United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. Samsung recalls Galaxy Note7 smartphones due to serious fire and burn hazards.
  8. National Sleep Foundation. Be your best slept self.
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