By Gina Roberts-Grey
Your smartphone or tablet are essential tools on any given day. In fact, on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, they can be your lifeline to the hottest deals of the holiday season. But while your favorite electronic gadget or app can help you in your pursuit of the best buys, it also can wreak havoc on your sleep.
Teofilo Lee-Chiong, M.D., professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado and medical liaison for Philips Respironics, said the proliferation of electronic devices into the bedroom is causing a growing number of people to experience sleep issues such as insomnia and daytime fatigue.
“Throughout history, individuals have brought many things into their bedrooms—books, writing instruments, weapons, card games, knitting needles, etc. Technology devices are the latest such items that have found their way into the bedroom,” Lee-Chiong said. “In the same way that reading and games can cut into the time generally reserved for sleep, today, unrestrained use of smartphones and tablets can markedly delay bedtimes and shorten total sleep time. Many persons even reach for these devices during awakenings in the night.”
David Volpi, M.D., a sleep specialist and founder and director of New York City-based EOS Sleep, said the stress of the holidays and thinking of all the deals you hope to score on Cyber Monday can prevent your body from unwinding enough at night to drift off—especially if you have your phone, tablet or laptop near you.
“It’s hard to disconnect from technological devices. But not powering down prevents you from fully focusing on the action of sleep,” he said.
And, as strange as it sounds, not only might you stay up late hunting bargains on your device instead of sleeping, when you finally do get to sleep, your thumbs could do some shopping without you!
Having access to your devices can lead to “sleep shopping” in the wee hours of Cyber Monday (or any other day), as well as texting family and friends, updating Facebook or and adding pins on Pinterest—all while you’re asleep.
It’s a relatively new phenomenon but it has been documented. In fact, “Glee” star Chris Colfer publicly admitted to sleep shopping.
Sleep texting, another relatively new phenomenon popping up in the last decade or so, combines sleepwalking behavior with social media. And doctors including Volpi say it is threatening the sleep and overall health of millions of “textually” active people, especially during the holiday season.
“[Texting or surfing the web while sleeping] is a very real disorder with emotional, mental and physical consequences,“ Volpi said. Although it has yet to be officially categorized, many experts consider sleep texting to be a form of parasomnia,
In addition to the fatigue associated with lack of restorative sleep, sleep texting also can lead to high blood pressure, irregular menstrual cycles, headaches and weight gain that can lead to obesity.
Inside the world of the textually active
Experts like Volpi believe that sleep texting and other electronic-related activity occurs during the REM, or “rapid eye movement,” sleep stage, which lasts anywhere from 90 minutes to 120 minutes. “It is the portion of sleep when you’re the closest to being conscious and is a sleep phase necessary to experience completely restorative sleep,” Volpi said.
And it just doesn’t affect particular age groups or personality types. Lee-Chiong said any frequent user of an electronic device at bedtime is susceptible. "Inappropriate use of technology devices in the bedroom can be seen in all age groups from young children to older adults,” he said. “Technology has permeated every aspect of our waking lives and is threatening to do the same to our sleep.”
Medicine won’t treat this type of sleep disorder. Rather, powering down and keeping technology out of the bedroom are the best medicine.
“There is a simple way to regain control of our sleep time: Push the ‘off’ button in these devices, disconnect from the 24-hour society and get some much needed shut-eye,” Lee-Chiong said.
And remember, sleep issues could be early warning signs of sleep apnea or other health issues, so Volpi suggests talking to your doctor if you wake to find you’ve been sleep shopping, texting or other cyber activity.