By Valentina Palladino
I’ve never been the type of person to sleep with my cell phone. I know I’m in the minority, but I find it annoying when my mattress shakes with short bursts of vibrations throughout the night as my friends send me funny texts from last night or drunken updates about the number of Jell-O shots they’ve had. Don’t get me wrong. I love all of those ridiculous texts, and of course I want to hear about your crazy Friday night – just not while I’m catching my ZZZs. As it turns out, my preference for undisturbed sleepy-time could be doing more for my body than just allowing me to drift off into the land of dreams peacefully.
According to a pilot study conducted by the JFK Medical Center in Edison, N.J., people who send text messages or use other electronic communications media right before bedtime suffer from poorer sleep than those who don’t and experience possible cognitive and mood problems during the day. Text messaging and Internet use before bed were also linked to excessive movement and leg pain while sleeping and, in some cases, insomnia.
Dr. Peter G. Polos and his colleagues conducted the study with 40 JFK Sleep Clinic patients aged eight to 22 and found that adolescents who are stimulated by electronics risk inhibiting their sleep quality and increasing learning problems throughout the rest of the day. Further investigation is needed to verify the findings; however, the study shows the possible correlation between electronics and distracted sleep.
This study, along with related research, has prompted sleep doctors to change the way they evaluate insomnia and other sleep issues. According to American College of Chest Physicians president David D. Gutterman, M.D. of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, doctors are encouraged to take electronic media into account when they examine patients.
“The prevalence of insomnia and other sleep disorders is cause for great concern, given their potential consequences on a child’s ability to function in school,” Gutterman said, as quoted by MedPageToday, which is affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “Research shows that the problem is increasing, so it is more important than ever for physicians to ask questions about technology use when evaluating children for sleep issues.”
The JFK study found people averaged 33.5 text messages or e-mails sent each night to an average of 3.7 people. All of these communications occurred between 10 minutes and four hours after “bedtime,” and left 77 percent of the young adults with trouble falling asleep. From my experience with friends, those numbers of texts seem very low. Some young adults never let their phones go outside a two-foot radius of their bodies, and some even fall asleep while texting.
“I fall asleep every night in the middle of text conversations,” said Imani Finn, a sophomore clinical laboratory sciences major at Howard University in Washington, D.C. “I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s normal now.”
The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a sleep survey and found certain environmental characteristics that are suggested by sleep experts to get the best sleep possible. They suggest to move all electronic devices out of the bedroom, especially at bedtime. As a college student, that may seem nearly impossible. Junior English major Brian Salemi usually uses the Internet, sends text messages, and listens to music before going to bed at night, and it doesn’t always bode well for his shut-eye.
“Sometimes after I’ve listened to music or used the computer before bed, I’ll be up for a good 45 minutes even after everything has been shut off,” Salemi said.
It is possible to leave the electronics behind. However, if you’re set on your late-night, in-depth texting convos, try to compromise.
1) Go to sleep a few minutes later. If you set your bedtime a bit later than normal, you can continue the conversations you usually continue 10 minutes after you’ve begun trying to go to sleep. That way you can finish the conversation and not have it constantly interrupting your attempts at sleep.
2) Try plugging in your phone and leaving it on your desk next to the bed. That’s what I do, and it’s still close enough to grab if necessary, but far enough away to not make my bed feel like it’s plugged in. Sometimes I hear the vibrations of “urgent” texts, and sometimes I don’t.
At the end of the day (or night, in this case), getting the best night of sleep you can trumps most electronic communication. Your friends, the Internet, and all those other connections will be there in the morning. The question is, will you be awake enough to respond to them?