Experts weigh in on whether or not your phone should sleep elsewhere.
As a child, you may have slept with a teddy bear. These days, teens and adults sleep beside something far less warm and fuzzy. It likely won't come as a surprise that the "thing" is a phone or mobile device.
A 2019 survey by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that rates media and technology, found that 29 percent of teens slept with their phone or another mobile device. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of mobile devices were within reach while they slept. Parents didn't fare any better, with 74 percent keeping a device within reach but only 12 percent bed-sharing with one.
Other research also shows that phone use at night is not simply a "kids-these-days" problem. A 2017 survey of 855 hospital employees and university students with an average age of nearly 44 found that 70 percent of participants engaged in electronic social media use in bed. Almost 15 percent spent more than an hour on it.
But is our new favorite sleep companion preventing our brains from powering off at night? And is it harmful to health in any other ways? Experts discussed the risks of sleeping next to your phone.
Is Sleeping Next to Your Phone Bad for You?
Though it's the norm, sleeping next to or with your phone is not a good idea.
Experts share that's the first problem with sleeping next to your phone—it means you're likely on it before attempting shut-eye.
"The golden rule of sleep is 'only use the bed for sleep,'" says Dr. Alicia Roth, PhD, of Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center. "Getting into bed and using your phone may prevent you from falling asleep and having good sleep quality.
The science agrees with Dr. Roth. A 2020 study indicated that reducing phone use before bed for four weeks improved sleep quality and duration and working memory. Another study of more than 430 people in Saudi Arabia, ages 21 and up, suggested that people who used their smartphones before bed were more likely to get poor sleep.
“Sleeping next to your phone is like sleeping next to a slot machine," says Dr. Alex Dimitriu, MD, double board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine.
The odds are not in your favor.
“At best, [the phone is] captivating and interesting—unlike a book, when you get bored, you change apps or articles and keep searching," Dr. Dimitriu says. "At worst, it's rewarding and stimulating as you read a post or reaction or find a really interesting article you have been meaning to read."
Dr. Roth and Dr. Dimitriu say that pings can wake you up or make it tempting to scroll again after a midnight bathroom run.
"If you have lots of notifications turned on, you will hear every time you have a message or just those random messages from apps," Dr. Roth says.
How Does Sleeping Near Your Phone Affect Sleep?
Dr. Dimitriu compares using a phone to "hunt and find behavior" that animals, like mice, display when foraging for food.
"Smartphone use is a lot of seek-and-find behavior, which is periodically rewarded with a fascinating find," Dr. Dimitriu says. "This type of dopamine slot machine is the opposite of what makes people drift off to sleep. It's just too exciting and occasionally rewarding."
The light coming from the phone doesn't help.
A 2022 review indicated that research suggests blue light suppresses melatonin significantly more than other light sources, such as the single-wavelength monochromatic light that emanates from sodium bulbs. In turn, people can see a reduction in sleep quality, deep sleep and alertness when awake.
Combine this already-poor sleep quality with a phone going off with late-night messages or breaking news notifications, and it's a recipe for even fewer Zzzs. Even if you didn't doom scroll in bed, having your device on and near your sleep space can disrupt you.
"Light sleep comprises about 50 percent of any given night of sleep," Dr. Roth says. "And during light sleep, you are vulnerable to environmental changes—light, sound, temperature [and more]. If you are in light sleep and hear a notification or a notification lights up your phone, you may easily awaken."
It's a vicious cycle. If you are struggling to fall back asleep—or fall asleep in the first place, the phone beckons.
"You may reach for your phone to look at the time or just get on the phone again," Dr. Roth says. "Social media apps are designed to keep you absolutely glued to the screen, so once you start scrolling, you will have a difficult time stopping."
What About Electromagnetic Fields?
Sleep is vital to your health, and having your cell phone by your bed can disrupt it. But are there other health risks related to sleeping with your phones? Cell phones are a source of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Unlike ionizing sources (sunlight, X-Rays), non-ionizing EMFs are considered low-level radiation and generally perceived as safe for humans, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
But is the consistent exposure (including through the night) an issue—and reason to move the phone?
A 2019 study indicated that cell phone use was linked to an increased risk for glioma, a brain or spinal cord tumor. Another on male rats from 2017 noted immune suppressant effects from cell phone radiation. As for actual sleep, an older study from 2012 did not find an association between smartphone EMF and sleep quality.
"Putting all the research together, there is some chance that EMF can have deleterious health effects, and likely fewer effects on sleep," Dr. Dimitriu says. "However, given even a small chance of health impact from EMF, and a definite insomnia impact of having a colorful smartphone within arm's reach, it might be a good idea to leave the phone out of the bedroom if possible."
How To Reduce Harm From Sleeping by Your Phone
Dr. Roth gets it: Phones are a significant part of our lives. We use them to communicate and unwind, for better or worse.
"I don’t necessarily advocate for no devices close to bedtime—I think that’s really difficult to avoid in our times, but don’t bring it into bed with you," Dr. Roth says.
If you must sleep by your phone, try these tips to minimize its effect on your sleep.
Do not disturb
"If you do sleep next to your phone, anything you can do to minimize its interestingness is a plus," Dr. Dimitriu says.
Group chats can get rowdy late at night. So can news outlets. All those messages will still be there in the morning. "Put your phone on silent, so you don’t get notifications at all," Dr. Roth says.
You may have a child or family member who uses you as an emergency contact. You can still receive calls from them while muting the rest of the world.
"'Do not disturb’ is good, but yes, set up exceptions if you want to be available to certain people," Dr. Roth says. You can find the do not disturb function in the settings app on iPhones, Androids and Google phones.
Don't scroll in bed
Dr. Roth understands you may use your phone close to bedtime, but advises against scrolling in bed.
"Reserve the bed and bedroom for sleep alone," Dr. Roth says. "You may be bringing the phone into the bedroom with you as a 'just in case' or for the alarm function, but do not get into bed and doom scroll or do the Wordle."
Using your phone in bed can prevent your brain from going into sleep mode.
"Once you start using your phone in bed, your brain says, 'Huh, we get into bed, and we scroll, so that’s what the bed is for,'" Dr. Roth says. "You want your brain to think, 'If I’m in bed, I’m sleeping.'"
You can put boundaries in place, such as do not disturb, but willpower will play a role in minimizing the impact of sleeping near your phone. Take stock: Are the rules on your phone and for yourself working?
"If you can't resist checking, you might need to leave the phone out of the bedroom," Dr. Dimitriu says.