Tech Causes Lack of Sleep—But Can It Also Fix It?

If you are one of the 50 to 70 million Americans who have trouble sleeping, you know that sleep deprivation is more than just a daily annoyance. Lack of sleep, while the cause of increased irritability, depression, and anger, also has serious implications on a person’s wellbeing. Threatening over 45 percent of the world’s population, sleep deprivation is the source of a slew of major health problems ranging from stroke to heart disease; the most unsettling: early death.

What keeps many tossing and turning into the night? Insomnia, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy are just a handful of sleep disorders inflicting a large portion of the population. However, one of the main culprits of sleep deprivation may be something you take to bed with you every night.

In our technologically-dependent society, our smartphones go with us everywhere—even into the bedroom. To unwind before falling asleep, many of us scroll through Facebook, check our emails, or read the news. This may seem harmless, but we’ve become so addicted to our screen time that we are often blinded to the negative effects of being attached to technology. One study showed that individuals who use their smartphones before bed take longer to fall asleep and also experience a worst night’s sleep than those who don’t.

To combat these disruptive sleep patterns, technology makers believe the solution lies in… more technology. Sounds a little backwards, but some believe that tech-based solutions are the answer to better sleeping habits—but this isn’t necessarily the most popular opinion. Whether technology can correct the very issues it causes is still largely contested.

Here’s what we do know: there has been a surge in the number of apps designed specifically to fix poor sleep patterns. There are apps that will wake you up during the lightest point in your sleep cycle, ones that play white noise to drown out disruptive background sounds, and even apps that listen to your snoring to track your sleep cycles. In addition to more simple fixes, like dimming your phone screen or turning on the nighttime light features, there are also more high-tech options. Smart beds, for example, will detect sounds and movement and the mattress will adjust itself to make you more comfortable as you sleep. If it identifies snoring, it will rise to lift the person’s head.

While helpful, many wonder if these innovations are enough. Elliott Alpher, director of the Alpher Center for Sleep Disorders and Jaw Pain, says that technology is a part of this sleep epidemic, but it can’t shoulder all the blame. Life stressors like work, family, and relationships can also keep us up at night. Addressing these apps and smart technology, Alpher told CNBC that “the available technology monitors how you’re sleeping but it doesn’t literally help you sleep, the only thing that helps you sleep is if you turn off the technology.”

Some believe the answer to sleep deprivation lies in using technology, but doing so in a way that is conducive to eliminating stress. Randall Redfield, co-founder and CEO of Dreampad, told CNBC: “With or without tech, we have a great deal of stress during the day, and we don’t have a way during the day of relieving.” His thought is if there could be technology that takes away our stress, it will solve our sleeping issues.

While Alpher is strictly no-tech and Redfield believes in low-tech, both seem to agree on one thing: no matter how you address your sleep deprivation, using your smartphone is not the answer. But there are plenty of others who defend the transformative power of sleep apps. Regardless of your stance, it’s important to know your options so you can find what works best for you.