In the last 10 years smartphones have conquered a crucial position in mankind’s contemporary existence. We have reached a point where it is quite common for people to spend multiple hours per day on their smartphone, as smartphones play a pivotal role for many of us in communicating with the outside world and in maintaining social relations. But what exactly are the consequences of our large scale and possibly excessive smartphone usage from a public health perspective?
Dr. Dan Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, elaborates specifically on the impact of smartphone usage on our quality of sleep. Dr. Siegel argues that while many people are accustomed to browse on their smartphones before sleeping, smartphone usage is unknowingly hampering the quantity and quality of our sleep. First of all, people tend to go to bed later due to their inability of putting down their smartphone at night. Once in bed, it is rather tempting to continue interaction with the device; there is an addictive component involved here as well. But that’s not all. Not only do people go to bed later, but once they do decide it’s time to catch some much needed sleep, they might run into difficulties with actually falling asleep. This is caused by exposure to the bright phone screen, which inhibits the brain from secreting melatonin, the hormone responsible for our sleep-wake rhythm. This decreased secretion of melatonin hinders our ability to fall asleep significantly.
So why is this smartphone induced sleep deprivation so troublesome? Dr. Siegel argues that during our sleep, the neurons in our brain are at rest, while the supportive glial cells clean up the toxins that were produced by the neurons during daytime. Dr. Siegel says that for the vast majority of people it is a necessity to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep, in order for the glial cells to reduce the toxicity levels in the brain. If we are unable to reduce these toxicity levels by catching enough sleep, our cognitive capacities become impaired, our hormonal levels disturbed and our metabolism disrupted. Dr. Siegel explains his views in the following video.