It‘s common knowledge that using your phone before bedtime isn’t great for your sleep. After all, exposure to blue light has been shown to suppress the natural production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm. But beyond that, there are other reasons why certain apps may significantly affect your sleep quality. We spoke to Rachel Salas, MD, M.Ed, a sleep specialist for Johns Hopkins, about which apps can be helpful and which you want to avoid. Here’s what she had to say:
Prevent too much mental stimulation
Anything that engages your brain too much is, in general, probably a bad bet. This can include social media, email, streaming movies, and even reading a book if the story is too exciting and makes you not want to put it down. All of these things keep your mind active and alert, making it much harder to relax and fall asleep, so steer clear if you want to give yourself enough time to wind down.
Can it be anxiety-inducing? Save it for tomorrow!
According to Dr. Salas, social media can stir up a lot of emotions that interfere with falling asleep. “A lot of times people might see that their friend or so-and-so went on a vacation and it has them reflecting on their own lives, [getting them] upset or feeling down on [themselves].” For that reason, those deep social media dives and even a casual scroll before bedtime may be something you want to rethink. She also advises against checking the news before bed, as oftentimes that can provoke anxiety.
Avoid anything that promotes addictive behavior
Certain apps, like games and social media, can contribute to addiction by not having any real endpoint. Things like infinite scroll and constant stimulation make it difficult to disconnect from the digital world and relax. If you are someone that likes to play a game to unwind, for instance, try something like crosswords or Sudoku, and give yourself a hard limit before you start.
So, what should you try instead?
Aim to get off your phone at least 30 minutes before bedtime, but if you don’t think that’s realistic, Dr. Salas recommends opting for audio-focused apps and anything that promotes relaxation and calm—like yoga, meditation, or even a short, calming podcast. “That way you’re not messing with the light that could be stimulating,” she says.
She also acknowledges there should be “a bit of a Goldilocks approach” to this process. No one knows better than you what your triggers are, or what you find most stimulating. As such, you can always experiment with what works and what doesn’t. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, start by re-evaluating your bedtime routine and trying something else.