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Psychology student’s research shows that sleeping without your smartphone will make you happier

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Postgraduate Nicola Hughes says study participants experienced reduced anxiety and better sleep

Research carried out by a University of East London (UEL) Positive Psychology postgraduate student on mobile phone usage at night has been hailed by the academic press and mainstream media.

Master’s student Nicola Hughes published a paper this year in the prestigious Journal of Computers in Human Behaviour on the results of her investigation into the dangers of taking your mobile phone with you into your bedroom at night.

Nicola said, “Despite the well-documented benefits of the technology, there is a darker side to our smartphone attachment. ‘Technostress’ ensuing from the pressure of our ‘always on’ culture is having an increasingly negative impact on our health and wellbeing. Smartphone addiction is on the rise and numerous reports show decreases in focus, mood and affective wellbeing resulting from over-use.

”I wanted to find out what would happen if people stopped looking at their smartphones last thing at night and first thing in the morning.”

Under the supervision of UEL’s Dr Jolanta Burke, Nicola designed and carried out a study which asked 49 people to leave their smartphones outside the bedroom for one week and measured the impact on people’s happiness and quality of life.

The results were impressive.  After just one week of sleeping with their smartphones in a different room, participants found that both their happiness and their quality of life increased.

The study also revealed that removing the smartphone from the bedroom reduced people’s propensity for smartphone addiction in general – people were less likely to exhibit addictive smartphone behaviours throughout the daytime, as a result of the intervention at night.
 
Perhaps even more enlightening than the statistical findings were participants’ anecdotal reports. Improved sleep, reduced anxiety, more enjoyment of personal relationships, less time-wasting and increased focus were all experiences which came up time and time again in people’s comments, Nicola said.

She noted, “As technology continues to develop at break-neck speed, understanding the potential impacts, good and bad, to inform appropriate self-regulation of usage is vital to protect our wellbeing and health of mind. When it comes to smartphones, the message is clear. Leave it at the bedroom door and watch your happiness and quality of life go up and up.”

Nicola said her research was inspired by a 2017 survey which found that 57 per cent of teenagers and 35 per cent of parents check their phones within just five minutes of waking, with similar percentages checking within five minutes of going to sleep, as well as during the night.

After the study appeared in the Journal of Computers in Human Behaviour, it was picked up by mainstream media outlets such as CNBC, the i newspaper and a number of online blogs and news outlets.

The attention has generated impressive opportunities for Nicola.

She said, “I've been contacted by various people from both the academic field and from within the tech industry who want to learn more about the study, or invite me to contribute to things.

“One potential collaboration is with a tech start-up who have developed a Bluetooth beacon which connects to an app called Space for Humanity, which shuts your phone down when you're within a certain distance from it, in order to create phone-free space.”