Sarah has covered news topics for digital and print publications. She holds a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Nevada.
The COVID-19 lockdown resulted in millions of people spending an increased amount of time in their homes, resulting in a massive uptick in electronic device usage. A new study from the University of Rome, Italy reveals that the increased exposure to the blue light of screens negatively impacted sleep quality and increased symptoms of insomnia.
In some countries, total messaging and time spent on social networks increased more than 50%, and time spent on video calls increased tenfold. While these behaviors may have helped people cope with the limited social interaction, Salfi et. al.’s study identified far-reaching consequences on our sleep.
Researchers surveyed more than 2,000 Italian residents during the third and seventh week of the COVID-19 confinement. Participants responded to a demographic questionnaire, a chronotype questionnaire, and surveys using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index and the Insomnia Severity Index.
They then reported on how much they used electronic devices in the two hours before bed. Significant sleep impairment continued as the stay-at-home orders did.
More than one-third of the sample group reported an increase in electronic device usage in the two hours before falling asleep. And only 7% reduced the evening screen time between the weeks they were surveyed during the initial phase of lockdown.
Study participants who reported an increase in backlit electronic devices before bed experienced similar negative symptoms to one another, including:
Study participants who reported a decrease in blacklist electronic devices before bed experienced the opposite. This group reported these positive effects:
“Our results indicate a direct relationship between evening device usage and time course of sleep disturbances during the home confinement period,” researchers say.
These findings further prove that emotionally arousing screen-based activities, such as computer work or video games, should be carefully monitored in the hours before bed.
Interestingly, the study indicated that adolescents experienced a significant relationship between before-bed screen time and sleep disturbances.
Researchers suggest that further studies should be done to test the general impact on younger people, as this population spends increasing amounts of time on screens.
Blue light suppresses the body’s release of melatonin, a hormone that makes us feel drowsy. This can be harmful to our circadian rhythms at night, when our brains can be easily tricked into thinking it’s still daytime.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the entire world, and for modern societies that are dependent on technology, the increased time spent in front of screens could result in unavoidable consequences.
A continual decrease in sleep quality can impact your mood, ability to focus, and may even be linked to an increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Several factors contribute to poor sleep quality, including:
Habits such as establishing a consistent bedtime and sunlight exposure in the mornings are ways to improve sleep quality, among many others; however, this study illustrates the ongoing importance of screen time regulation, especially when time at home has increased dramatically.