How do digital media affect sleep?

Digital media have become an integral part of today's everyday life, but how do smartphones, social media, Netflix & Co. work? on our sleeping behavior? We explain what digital media means for sleep and what we should pay attention to so that our sleep is restful despite media consumption.

Table of Contents

  1. Media consumption in everyday life
  2. The effect of media on sleep
  3. Tips for media consumption before sleep
  4. Conclusion

1. Media consumption in everyday life

Digital media are an integral part of today's everyday life. Hardly anyone leaves the house without a smartphone, we listen to the radio in the car or at work and in the evenings at home we watch the TV or our favorite series on Netflix. We spent an average of 10 hours a day consuming digital media in 2021. However, this can also have numerous negative effects and can also significantly affect our sleep. Exciting television series, exciting computer games or hours of scrolling through social media channels can prevent us from finding enough relaxation before going to bed.

Numerous studies prove that consuming digital media before going to bed has a decisive influence on our sleep behavior. What matters most is the type of medium and the time of use. Active media, such as gaming or social media, can have a greater impact on sleep than passive media such as television or podcasts, which are more intrusive and do not require direct interaction.

2. The effect of digital media on sleep behavior

Lack of tiredness

Daylight has a major influence on our sleep-wake rhythm. During the day, the sun emits a lot of “blue” light that keeps us awake and active. As darkness increases in the evening, the production of the sleep hormone melatonin begins, which makes us tired and allows us to fall asleep. Bright screens also emit large amounts of blue light, mimicking daylight, which slows melatonin production in the evening and makes us more likely to stay awake by suppressing tiredness and falling asleep.

smartsleep Schlafmagazin Digitale Medien und Schlaf Farbspektrum von Sonnenlicht Tageslicht und LED Bildschirmlicht

Tip: Dim the room lights a few hours before going to bed and try to avoid bright screens. On most smartphones and screens, you can also activate a blue light filter function or wear glasses with special lenses that filter blue light.

Stress instead of relaxation

An exciting horror film that makes us excited or an adventurous video game that requires our full concentration activate our nervous system and can lead to excitement and a stress reaction in the body. Then we release more of the stress hormone cortisol, our heart rate and blood pressure rise, our breathing becomes faster and our body does everything it can to keep us awake, alert and productive. So we can't relax and get in the mood for sleep, the tiredness disappears and it becomes much more difficult to fall asleep.

Less sleep

Digital and especially social media often tempt us to stay online longer than we would actually like. Various studies have shown that the happiness hormone dopamine is released when gaming and using social media. Every interaction on the smartphone or console reaches the reward system in our brain and entices us to scroll further and see even more. For this reason, we quickly lose track of time when gaming or surfing Instagram, Facebook, YouTube or TikTok, especially in the evening, and often go to bed later than planned.

smartsleep Schlafmagazin Digitale Medien vor dem Schlaf Smartphone in der Nacht

Tip: Only use your bed to sleep, not to watch TV and, if possible, ban your smartphone from the bedroom entirely. Plan certain media and media-free times in your day and use reminder functions, for example on Instagram itself or with the help of special apps, to alert you to breaks after a certain period of use.

3. Tips for media consumption before sleep


Whether on the computer, cell phone or game console, gaming requires our interaction and concentration, allows us to experience it emotionally and in this way puts a strain on the brain and nervous system. Especially in exciting games with a high “thrill” factor, there are numerous stimuli in the nervous system. These so-called “arousels” sound like alarm bells in our brain and make us awake and alert. This suppresses the naturally occurring tiredness before going to bed and makes it difficult for us to fall asleep after an intensive evening of gaming.

In a study at the German Sports University in Cologne, smartsleep® founder and sleep researcher Dr. Markus Dworak and his team prove that intensive gaming in the evening actually led to a longer time falling asleep and less deep sleep than watching TV or a media-free time before going to bed. And memory performance was also reduced by gaming, so that those who played found it more difficult to remember certain things the next day than those who didn't play video games before going to sleep. Markus explains why exactly this effect occurred in our 22nd edition. Podcast episode “This is how media influences sleep”.

Tip: Try to avoid demanding and immersive games with a high thrill factor in the evening or give yourself enough time to relax between the last game and going to bed. Simple, less demanding games or puzzles, on the other hand, are a good activity to do before going to bed.

We have noted the best sleep tips especially for gamers in this article.

TV & Streaming

Films and series are a popular pastime and are part of the routine for many people, especially in the evenings. Documentaries or light entertainment series that require only casual attention can help us relax and find peace after a strenuous day, which has a positive effect on sleep and falling asleep. Exciting series with nasty cliffhangers, scary thrillers or crime films, on the other hand, often leave us excited or puzzled. Then our nervous system is highly active again and we are enticed to watch episode after episode for a little longer.

Tip: Instead of a series marathon, you can watch quiet documentaries or relaxed series before going to bed that don't put too much strain on the brain and help you slowly calm down. The television should also not be in the bedroom so that your sleeping environment is only used for sleeping.

Podcasts & Music

smartsleep Schlafmagazin Digitale Medien und Schlaf, Podcasts, Klänge, Geräusche, White Noise zum Einschlafen

Podcasts, music or certain sounds and noises can support the falling asleep process and help you fall asleep better. Our hearing is also active during sleep and processes all acoustic stimuli in our environment at night. Calming podcasts, bedtime stories or relaxing music can distract us from everyday stress, change our thoughts and help us fall asleep. However, the music should not be too exciting and stories should not be told in a too complex and exciting way, otherwise we tend to listen with concentration and think about the content. You can find detailed information about the effect of music or so-called white noise on sleep in this article.

Tip: Simple bedtime stories, white noises and special sleep sounds can be easily integrated into the evening routine to gently support relaxation and falling asleep. It's best to use a sleep timer and keep the volume at a moderate level so that the music doesn't continue playing forever during the night and possibly wake you up again.

Social Media

Communicating, socializing or comparing ourselves to others on social media can quickly become addictive and tie us to our smartphone, tablet or notebook for hours. But if we spend ages on our smartphones in the evening and are exposed to screen light, our natural tiredness is often suppressed, we go to bed later and fall asleep less quickly because melatonin production is disrupted.

Tip: Limit social media to certain times of the day, set reminders for breaks and, ideally, not take your smartphone to bed at all.

4. Conclusion

  • Digital media can make it more difficult to fall asleep and lead to shorter sleep duration.
  • The impact of the media depends on the content, type and timing of media consumption.
  • Exciting video games, series and podcasts keep us awake and disrupt the process of falling asleep
  • Soothing documentaries, sleep stories or special sounds can help relax and promote sleep.

Greetings and see you soon!

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