Mobile phones have conquered our society and have become an indispensable part of day today life. Every step, every turn we take in and out of our house, we are always equipped with a mobile phone be it day or night; while working, eating, relaxing or or preparing for sleep; as if an extended part of our being. A technology which was once a mere and effective means of communication, going through different phases of innovation has evolved into smartphones which can be considered as a complete utility and entertainment package. As a result the time we spend on mobile phones are becoming excessive and without any consideration for the time or our well being. It is high time that we understand how we are turning a useful technology to an addiction at the expense of our own health.

In the present clinical scenario there are a lot of complaints like headache, pain in eyes, fatigue, lack of concentration, poor memory, irritability and so on. Most often, when we dig deep into the cause, the culprit turns out to be mobile phones and other such bright screens. It appears that these screens are most hurtful when used while going to bed at night, when all the other ambient light sources are turned off. 

It is saddening to observe that nowadays it has become a part of night time ritual for everyone with a smartphone to spend some time on it before going to sleep; be it work related, as a means to unwind after a stressful day or just as an addiction. But are we really relaxing with the help of a mobile phone or is it having a contrary effect?

Night-time is Sleep-time!

As day time is for productivity, night time is for relaxation and sleep; a time for the brain, sensory organs and body to unwind and restore its functionality. It is a habitual and natural phenomenon. Quality sleep and getting enough of it at right times is essential to survival as food and water.

According to Ayurvedic perspective: Sleep (nidra) is considered among one of the three sub-pillars that supports life [trayopasthambhāḥ- the other two being food (āhāra) and governing of sex and desires (abrahmacarya)].  Proper sleep is essential for physical and mental health.

In Caraka Saṃhitā- a classical textbook of Ayurveda, it is stated that the sleep caused by the nature of night is the sleep par excellence; this is known as bhūtadhātrī that nurses all the living beings.  According to this text, sleep happens when the mind along with sensory and motor faculties (indriya) is exhausted. It is a natural process through which the body regains its equilibrium by allowing our mind and faculties to rest. A proper sleep will bring happiness (sukha), nourishment (puṣṭi), strength (bala), virility (vṛṣatā), knowledge (jñāna) and longevity (āyuḥ).

Sleep is an important part of our daily routine. Sleep has been postulated to serve many functions including neural maturation, facilitation of learning and memory, cognition and conservation of metabolic energy. Sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body- from brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood and disease resistance.

Effects of bright screens on night sleep

The artificial blue light from the smart phones transmitted through eyes (retina) makes the brain alert and can delay release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin. This will affect in the delay of the sleep initiation process. And as a result, we throw our internal biological clock (sleep-wake cycle that occurs on a circadian schedule) into a chaos if it happens continuously.

Lack of sleep at night leads to sorrow (duḥkha), body ache (aṅgamardaṃ), heaviness of head (śirogauravaṃ), continuous yawning (jṛmbhikā), laziness (jāḍya), giddiness (bhrama), indigestion (apakti), fatigue (tandrā) and diseases caused due to vāta.

Lack of sleep affects the functions of the central nervous system. Even mild sleep restriction over a few days may degrade cognitive and physical performance, overall productivity, and health of a person.  Prolonged wakefulness is often associated with progressive malfunction of thought process and even causes abnormal  behavioral activities. Studies have shown that in young adults incidence of stress, sleep disorders and depression is high in users of mobile phones at night. Sleep loss can lead to metabolic dysfunction. Short sleep duration is a well known risk factor for overweight and obesity. 

Effect of lack of sleep on the eyes

Excessive gazing at highly luminous objects is considered as over-utilization (atiyogaof the visual faculty. Excessive use and there by straining of eyes will lead to eye diseases. The eyes require complete rest which is attained during sleep is necessary for the restoration of its functional capacity.

Continuous and prolonged use of mobile phones at night can damage the eyes. Studies show that continuous direct exposure to blue light can damage retinas and could lead to macular degeneration, a condition that causes the loss of central vision. The excessive strain on the eyes due to night time exposure of bright light can cause pain and fatigue of the eyes, dry eyes and headache.

The Risk of Radiation

The international Agency for Research of Cancer (IARC) which is a  part of the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified Radio Frequency fields emitted from cell phones as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.  

It is a field the scientists still continue to study. Even though solid evidence has not yet been found between risk of cancer and radiation from cell phones, researches are being conducted in the identified possible links. It is better to restrict the use of mobile phones as there is a possibility.

The Way Out..

A mobile phone, originally meant to help with communication has now become an inevitable part of life. But it is not right to become enslaved to it. And abstaining from night usage is a tough endeavor for many. So a gradual wean off is the best method. Reduce the usage time voluntarily while replacing that time with other sleep-promoting yet healthy habits like listening to light music or casual reading. While at it, there are some methods in the phone itself that may help you reduce night usage or at the very least minimize the damage. 

The mobile phone and app makers are slowly waking up to the fact that encouraging users to engage in continual and prolonged usage will only effect in bad practices. Several regulatory bodies in various countries have also stepped in. As a result, we are now seeing several settings and features in the phones itself that aims at better health practices involving smartphones. Here are some of them:

1. Dark Mode

Many apps now have this option to show the background in pitch black while the texts appear in white. This is not just to improve battery life in AMOLED phones. More importantly it brings down the illumination dramatically while you can still use an app, if you must use it at night.

2. Blue-Light filter or Comfort View

This feature is available in the display settings of most phones. It is a digital solution to minimize the blue-light emitted which, as mentioned earlier, directly affects retina and melatonin secretion.

3. Screen and app usage monitors

There are several 'Digital Wellbeing' features and apps like launchers that would track the user patterns and give out alerts and warnings on overuse. These concepts are incorporated into the new feature settings as well. One example is the new default brightness setting. You may notice that when you are trying to increase the brightness to maximum, the phone shows a portion of brightness scale in orange showing that may be excessive or even prompt you to reconsider increasing brightness, with a message.

4. Focus Mode

Most of the times, even if the phone is kept away, a notification chime would make you get out of the bed and grab the phone again. Putting in silent mode may not be the wisest choice if there is an emergency. What you can do is activate  the focus mode or similar setting in your phone by which you can select which all apps (or persons) need to be silenced.

Ultimately, the goal should be total abstinence from bright screens at bedtime. We should always put restrictions on the usage of smartphones so that it won’t interfere with our physical, mental and social well being. Let’s stop using smartphones at least one hour before we are intending to sleep so that the brain can switch from alert mode to a quiet relaxed state gradually and we can get a deep restful sleep. 

Wishing you a Good Night, Every Night!   

About author

Dr. Divya. K. S.

MD (Ay-Kayachikitsa) Ayur Raksha Ayurveda Clinic and Panchakarma Centre, Sreedharan’s Ganesh Pharmaceuticals Areacode, Malappuram.

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