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Is it harmful to sleep next to a smartphone: how true are the scares about radiation and brain overheating?


Olga Derkach

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In 2019, Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization, conducted a survey among adults and teenagers that revealed interesting facts about the connection of mobile devices with sleep. According to this study, 29% of teens admitted to sleeping with their cell phone or other gadget next to them in bed, and 68% of them always keep their devices within reach, even when they sleep. In adults, this percentage is even higher at 74%, but only 12% of them actually fall asleep with their phones nearby. Is it dangerous, the publication found out Life hacker.

Another study conducted in 2017 in the United States covered 855 middle-aged hospital employees and university students (about 44 years old). This survey found that 70% of them use social networks while in bed and 15% spend more than an hour before going to bed.

Many people are used to starting and ending their day by checking their smartphones. But there is a significant group that believes that the close presence of a mobile device during sleep can adversely affect health. On the Internet, you can find articles warning against this habit, and we will consider whether these fears are justified.

Why a smartphone is not as dangerous as you think

Most often, the media mentions "radiation" as the main source of danger associated with smartphones. According to them, electromagnetic waves used by devices for transmitting signals can disrupt the biorhythms of the body and possibly contribute to the development of malignant tumors. Another popular claim is that smartphones can cause overheating of brain tissue, making their use during sleep dangerous. However, both of these arguments are questioned, and here's why.

Smartphone radiation is not carcinogenic

At the moment, there is not a single study that would prove the connection between radiation from mobile phones and the development of cancer. And this only supports the common but erroneous idea that the radiation of phones is comparable to radioactivity. This is misleading because not all types of radiation have the potential to cause harm. For example, sunlight is also a form of radiation, but it is not only safe, but necessary for life.

The danger to cells is ionizing, or radioactive radiation, such as gamma rays or x-rays. However, a smartphone is physically unable to generate such radiation.

A scientific analysis by the US National Cancer Institute compared incidence rates of brain cancer and other cancers over the past two decades in the US, Australia and northern Europe. The researchers found no change in the incidence of cancer, despite the increase in the popularity of smartphones from 1993 to 2013.

The Wi-Fi and 5G radio signals generated by your smartphone are almost a billion times weaker than the ionizing photons emitted by radioactive substances. They are not powerful enough to even penetrate your skin, and therefore cannot damage cell DNA and cause cancer.

Smartphones do not cause overheating of human tissues

On the Internet, among other things, you can find statements that the radiation of mobile phones can negatively affect a person, causing the body to overheat during prolonged contact. It is assumed that prolonged use of a smartphone in active mode (for example, if it is under the pillow during sleep) can damage brain cells by raising their temperature.

However, this statement also turns out to be a myth. Experts from the US National Cancer Institute say the human body does absorb energy emitted by radio frequency devices such as smartphones and tablets. The natural result of this process is the heating of the area of ​​the body where the mobile device is located. Thus, if you put your smartphone to your head and talk, you can actually feel the temperature rise in that part of the body.

On the subject: How to block spam calls to your phone for free and effectively

However, the emission power of a smartphone is too low to significantly affect the temperature of body tissues. In order to damage brain cells, the temperature must rise above 43°C, and the smartphone antenna is not able to reach such values.

Ultimately, if smartphones could heat up organics, then people wouldn't have to use microwaves in the kitchen. In one study, conducted by scientists at the Isfahan University of Medical Sciences in Iran, they found that the power of a mobile phone's antenna is not enough to raise even a slight increase in the temperature of a cow's brain tissue, even by 1°C.

Why you shouldn't sleep with your smartphone anyway

As you can see, a mobile phone is not at all a source of dangerous radiation, as is sometimes claimed in some media. It does not have the ability to cause cancer or negatively affect brain function. Thus, it is safe to say that a person who has a phone in his hand when he falls asleep is not in danger of mortal danger. However, despite this, there are several reasons why you should refrain from this habit.

Blue screen light disrupts sleep rhythms

The screens of smartphones, computers, televisions and other devices emit blue light, which is the shortest wavelength within the visible spectrum, but also the highest energy.

Blue light waves are part of solar radiation. However, they have a suppressive effect on the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.

Here's how it works: Under natural conditions, during the day the sun illuminates the environment, keeping us awake, and at night, when it sets, the body begins to prepare for sleep. However, if you continue to use devices with bright blue light in the evening, the body perceives this as a signal that the day is not over yet, and melatonin does not begin to be produced. This can lead to difficulty falling asleep, insomnia, and reduced sleep quality.

To avoid the negative effects of blue light, do not use your smartphone before going to bed. It's a good practice to avoid gadgets at least a couple of hours before bed.

Alternatively, you can activate the blue light filter feature on your smartphone, often referred to as Night Mode, Reading Mode, or Night Shift. This feature is available on most mobile devices. If it is missing, you can always install a third-party application for such filtering.

The smartphone distracts and prevents you from falling asleep

When your smartphone is within arm's reach, the temptation to scroll through social media feeds becomes overwhelming. Instead of lying bored in the dark and counting sheep, you get involved in the endless world of virtual communities. Sometimes this can last until late at night, causing you to wake up the next day without sleep and go through the day drowsy and inattentive.

Researchers from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that the vast majority of adults surveyed suffered from sleep disturbances associated with late-night social media use. Because of their smartphones and tablets, 77% of men and 83% of women experience lack of sleep.

To deal with this problem, the easiest way is to eliminate the presence of smartphones and tablets in the bedroom. You can also take advantage of digital wellness apps that help you manage your social media addiction. Many manufacturers already include similar functions in their devices.

Decide which programs and services make it most difficult for you to fall asleep, and set time limits on their use. For example, your smartphone can automatically block access to them from 22:00 to 7:00.

A smartphone can wake you up in the middle of the night

Even if you have a strong will and calmly fall asleep without succumbing to the temptation of a nearby smartphone, it can still negatively affect your sleep if a notification or message suddenly arrives in the middle of the night. Often, waking up at such a moment, it is difficult to fall asleep again, and in order to avoid such nighttime awakenings, it is better to take measures.

Luckily, modern smartphones provide functionality to automatically turn off sounds, vibrations, and screen lights at set times. In your device's settings menu, you can find a "night mode" or "do not disturb" option and set it to turn on when you get ready for bed.

It is important to note that this mode does not affect alarms, so you can always get up on time. However, a more radical step might be to completely eliminate the smartphone from the bedroom and replace it with a mechanical or digital watch.

The smartphone may catch fire due to overheating or short circuit

We have already determined that a working smartphone is not capable of heating the human body to a degree that could cause tissue damage. However, a faulty device or improper use may pose a fire risk.

For example, Apple recommends that you use your devices at room temperature, which ranges from 16 to 22°C, and avoid operating them at temperatures above 35°C. The company warns that charging and storing smartphones in hotter conditions can have serious and permanent consequences.

Lithium-ion smartphone batteries can catch fire and even explode if they are severely overheated, short-circuited while charging, or mechanically damaged.

UK electrical safety organization Electrical Safety First warns that charging electronic devices, including smartphones and tablets, on the bed or under the pillow while sleeping is not recommended to avoid possible overheating and fires. Therefore, you should refrain from such actions.

It is also not recommended to leave devices charging unattended. If you need to charge your device overnight, it is preferable to place it on a hard surface, such as a table, and avoid long-term charging in a hot room or in direct sunlight.

The smartphone can play a cruel joke on people with sleepwalking

Finally, it's worth noting that the habit of keeping your smartphone close to your bed can have other, less obvious negative consequences. There are a number of unusual sleep-related phenomena known as parasomnias. Interestingly, they can occur even in healthy people and are not necessarily associated with sleep disorders.

For example, parasomnias include phenomena such as sleep paralysis and sleepwalking (somnambulism). Some people not only wander around during sleep, but also perform various activities, such as cooking, going outside, or even having sex, without remembering it after waking up.

Sleepwalking was known even in the time of William Shakespeare, but sending instant messages while somnambulist is a modern phenomenon. Some people are so engrossed in their mobile devices that they may even text their contacts while they sleep, especially during the rapid eye movement stage when dreaming occurs.

Those who have discovered such strange manifestations of dreams often admit that they could get into awkward situations because of this. For example, one girl told how she wrote a phrase to her boyfriend in a dream, which looked rather strange after waking up. The easiest way to avoid such situations is not to keep your smartphone in the bedroom, or at least keep it away from the bed. This will help to avoid automatic correspondence, which can become an unwanted habit.

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