Guide to Insomnia and Technology

By:
Lara Vukelich
Date:
September 8, 2022

Article originally posted on allconnect.com by Lara Vulkelich

Insomnia affects millions of people. In fact, studies show as many as 1 in 4 Americans experience insomnia each year. This sleep disorder makes it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep or fall back asleep after waking up. As a result, those affected are unable to get an adequate amount of rest each night.

People who experience insomnia may feel tired and have low energy when they are awake. It can make focusing at work or in school challenging, and it can also affect mood and put those afflicted at a higher risk of other health conditions.

The two main types of insomnia

  • Short-term (acute) insomnia, which can last for a few days or weeks
  • Long-term (chronic) insomnia, which lasts for more than a month
Insomnia facts and statistics

Reasons someone may develop insomnia

  • Medical conditions
  • Medication side effect
  • Mental health conditions
  • Inconsistent sleep schedules
  • Unhealthy sleep habits

Technology disruptions

Increased use of technology can disrupt sleeping patterns

Studies have also shown technology use may be preventing adults, teens and children from getting enough sleep. Electronic gadgets are a constant in our lives (many people even take them into the bedroom at night), and this interaction with smartphones, tablets, video games, televisions and laptops could be contributing to low sleep quality.

Blue light not only harms your eyes but is likely to keep you more alert at night and compromise your state of mind the next morning. If you’re up late doom-scrolling social media or responding to emails, you’re less likely to be alert the following day. Loss of REM sleep can jeopardize your brain function and may even shorten your lifespan.

Technology is a problem at bedtime for adults and children alike. One study found that children who watch television at night are more likely to be tired in the morning and less likely to want to eat breakfast. Using multiple devices at night was found to exacerbate these problems.

The bottom line is that using a smartphone or other device at night can mess with your circadian rhythm by stopping your body from creating enough melatonin once the sun goes down. Your body relies on light signals to get tired, and phones interrupt this natural process.  

Fortunately, in addition to technology disrupting sleep, a growing number of gadgets and tech solutions are available that can help improve sleep.

Causes of insomnia

Download a copy of insomnia causes and facts here.

Causes of insomnia

The ability to fall asleep and stay asleep is influenced by a variety of things. Lack of sleep makes it harder to concentrate, learn and create memories. Research shows a chronic sleep deficit puts you at higher risk of developing conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

Your brain communicates when your body needs sleep, releases the hormone melatonin, relaxes your muscles and monitors external factors that influence sleep cycles, such as when it’s light or dark outside. When all these things work together, you are able to fall asleep.

“Insomnia is multi-factorial. People who develop it may have a predisposition toward disruptive sleep, such as family history or genetics,” said Dr. Kelly Baron, Director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Utah Health. “Generally, something triggers insomnia — a stress or some sort of medical illness, or psychiatric causes like depression.”

If you’re worried that your medications could be contributing to insomnia, talk to your doctor about trying a different medication or adjusting your dosage. Don’t stop taking your medication or make any changes without consulting your doctor.

Mental health challenges

Mental health challenges like stress, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can all make it more difficult to sleep. These types of sleep disturbances could be triggered by specific life events, such as the loss of a loved one, divorce or stress at work or school, or they could be the result of ongoing anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions.

Lifestyle habits

  • Frequent travel can throw off your body’s internal clock, especially when traveling across several time zones.
  • Work schedules, such as graveyard shifts, where you have to sleep during the day, or frequently changing schedules, can make it hard to get into a sleep rhythm.
  • Eating large meals right before bed can lead to heartburn or physical discomfort.
  • Stimulating your brain before bed
  • Consuming stimulants (caffeine, nicotine) or depressants (alcohol), can also disrupt sleep.

Sleep habits

  • Irregular schedule
  • Daytime napping
  • Sleeping in a room with temperature, light or sound extremes
  • Stimulating your brain before bed

Age

Older adults are more likely to have medical conditions, such as an overactive bladder, or take medications for other health conditions that disrupt sleep.

How to relieve insomnia

While many people do suffer from insomnia at some point, there are things you can do to improve your ability to sleep. The first (and easiest) solution is to examine your sleep habits and practice good sleep hygiene.

“Sleep hygiene refers to recommendations for healthy sleep habits. They are things that are generally good for your sleep,” said Baron.

Good sleep hygiene and technology habits

  • Establish a regular routine that signals to your body that it’s time to sleep
  • Create a good sleep environment with a comfortable mattress and set the room temperature between 60 and 68 degrees. If you sleep during the day, consider blackout curtains to block natural light.
  • Use ear plugs, white noise machines or fans for a quieter sleep environment.
  • Avoid caffeine and other stimulants close to bedtime, and drink alcohol only in moderation.
  • Exercise regularly during the day to improve your sleep and ensure you are exposed to adequate natural light during your waking hours to maintain a proper circadian rhythm.
  • Stop using smartphones, tablets, computers and televisions 30 to 60 minutes before bed.
  • Start using an anti-snore device that automatically moves your pillow when you snore so you don’t wake up yourself or your partner.
  • Introduce light therapy into your nighttime routine to simulate sunset and signal to your brain that it’s time to rest.
  • Try a weighted blanket, which may reduce stress and allow you to feel calmer when it’s time to go to sleep.

Technology that helps

Technology is emerging that may help improve your sleep. Some of these technologies monitor your body during sleep, others monitor and adjust your sleep environment and others address physical conditions that can make it harder to get to sleep and stay asleep.

Medications for sleep

There are also medications that may help you sleep, but it’s important to talk to your doctor before you take a sleep aid.

Over-the-counter or natural sleep aids can help when you experience short-term insomnia (for example, related to jet lag after traveling, or when you are sick). These include:  sedating antihistamines like Benadryl, melatonin supplements, and plant-based supplements like valerian.

Prescription sleep medications may be prescribed for short-term or long-term insomnia relief if over-the-counter sleep aids and other non-drug interventions have not worked.

Sleep aids, including over-the-counter and prescription drugs, may have side effects or interfere with other medications you are taking. Before taking any medications, talk to your doctor.

The bottom line

Getting the right amount of restful and restorative sleep is essential for your health. If you experience insomnia, new technologies may offer some assistance in helping you sleep better. Expanded internet research on this topic, as well as joining online support groups can be invaluable, too. In addition to practicing good sleep hygiene, and working with your doctor to treat insomnia that is related to medical conditions, mental health or medications, these sleep innovations can provide you with the sleep you need to feel healthy and alert throughout the day.

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