Nomophobia and sleep: how our mobile phone addiction is disrupting our sleep cycle

Posted by for Life

Sleep psychology and mindfulness expert Hope Bastine took to the stage at Stylist’s Restival to make one thing very clear: our phone addiction is damaging our sleep. 

There’s no denying that we’re a nation addicted to our smartphones. No matter where you are, whether that’s riding the bus, on a packed tube train, eating in a restaurant or simply walking down the street, you’re bound to see someone on their phone.

Phones are, of course, wonderful things. They allow us to connect with people all over the world at the touch of a button, put whole libraries worth of information at our fingertips and allow us to consume our favourite films, TV shows and songs with ease. They’ve even given us the opportunity to create our own original content – whether that’s a podcast, YouTube video or social media feed – and share our voice with the world. 

But when it comes to the impact our phones are having on our sleep, the outlook isn’t so rosy. We now struggle to be without our phones – so much so, in fact, that the term “nomophobia” has emerged to describe the fear of being without them – and according to Hope Bastine, a sleep psychology and mindfulness expert, this inability to live without our devices is standing in the way of a good night’s sleep.

Taking to the stage at Stylist’s Restival earlier today, Bastine explained how our phone addiction could be making us more tired throughout the day, before we even think about heading to sleep. 

Hope Bastine speaking about nomophobia and smart phone addiction at Stylist's Restival
Hope Bastine: “You’re tired, you are burnt out, you’re exhausted, but when you go to lie down and go to sleep, what happens? The brain is alive.”

“[Our phone usage] is causing us to experience a phenomenon called tired but wired – my favourite way of calling it is busy bed head syndrome,” she explained. “You’re tired, you are burnt out, you’re exhausted, but when you go to lie down and go to sleep, what happens? The brain is alive.”

On top of this phenomenon, Bastine explained, our phone usage is disrupting the production of the sleep hormone melatonin – and the impulse to pick up our devices when we’re struggling to sleep is making the situation worse. 

“Our phone usage is knocking our sleep behaviours – it’s actually inhibiting us from sleeping,” Bastine explained. “95% of us look at our phones within five minutes of waking up, or within five minutes before we (try) to go to sleep. Considering it’s a device that stimulates the mind, that provides us with information, and that is light based (FYI, nobody can sleep in light, we need darkness to sleep) is this device we use five minutes before we go to sleep healthy for us?

“It takes one hour – post-darkness – for melatonin, which is the sleep hormone, to start being produced, to make you sleepy. So when the phone is beside you on the bedside table and suddenly you start tossing and turning, what’s the easiest thing to do? Pick the phone up – and then you’re resetting your clock.”

Instead of picking up your phone – and exposing yourself to the light which stops the production of melatonin, Bastine suggested getting an alarm clock – and banishing the phone from the bedroom altogether.

It can be difficult to admit that our smart phones are part of our sleep problem – especially when the act of scrolling through social media has become second nature – but the expert advice is crystal clear: if we want a good night’s sleep, our phones need to get out of the picture.

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Images: Bronac McNeill

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