How Far Away Should Your Cell Phone Be When You Sleep?

If you're like most people, your phone is never more than an arm's length away, but studies are beginning to reveal that this can hurt your sleep quality

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Woman sleeping with phone in the bed

Key Takeaways

  • Some studies reveal there may actually be risks associated with long-term exposure to radiofrequency radiation (RFR), including sleeping next to your phone.
  • Since everyone’s sensitivity to RFR is different, the general consensus is that it’s best to keep your cell phone at least three feet away from you when you sleep.
  • Researchers are discovering emerging evidence that the blue light emitted from our phones and other electronic devices can disrupt our body’s circadian rhythm or natural sleep cycle, making it difficult to fall asleep and remain asleep through the night.
  • If you’re struggling with sleep, we recommend making your bedroom a phone-free zone. Read our tips below.

We’ve poured through countless sleep studies to find the answer to this question, and the verdict is in – the farther you are from your cell phone when you sleep, the better!

Why?

The blue light that emits from your phone’s screen can disrupt your body’s natural sleep cycle, making it harder for you to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Additionally, most of us are plugged into our phones for hours before bed, resulting in overstimulation that makes it difficult to wind down and relax.

Even worse, with the current events of the world right now, many of us are staying up late at night on our phones scrolling through negative news stories and social media. This phenomenon has been named “doomscrolling” and it’s affecting our sleep and mental health.

In this guide, we’ll examine the evidence linking cell phone use to sleep problems and share tips on making your bedroom a phone-free zone so you can get the restful sleep you need. So get comfy, and let’s dive in!

Is It Dangerous to Sleep Next to Your Phone?

Cell phones use radiofrequency radiation (RFR) to send and receive signals to and from cell towers. This type of electromagnetic radiation is non-ionizing, and the FDA classifies it as generally harmless to humans.

However, several recent studies reveal there may actually be risks associated with long-term exposure to RFR, including sleeping next to your phone.

For example, the National Toxicology Programs published a report in 2018 showing clear evidence that male rats exposed to RFR had a higher chance of developing tumors in their hearts.

While this doesn’t necessarily mean that RFR causes cancer in humans, it suggests that more research is needed to determine the risks associated with long-term exposure. As a result, some experts recommend limiting cell phone use, especially at night when your body is trying to rest and repair itself.

So, despite some indications that sleeping next to your phone may be dangerous, the jury is still out. However, there are good reasons to err on the side of caution and keep your phone as far away from your bed as possible.

How Your Phone Affects Your Sleep

We’ve all been there: you’re exhausted after a long day, but when you finally climb into bed, your mind is racing, and you can’t seem to fall asleep.

So you reach for your phone, thinking a few minutes of scrolling will help relax you and clear your mind before bed. But this common habit could sabotage your sleep in several ways.

Poor Sleep Quality

Maybe you’re able to fall asleep, but you find yourself tossing and turning all night long. Or, you wake up feeling groggy and unrested, even though you slept for eight hours.

If this sounds familiar, your phone may be to blame.

Researchers are discovering emerging evidence that the blue light emitted from our phones and other electronic devices can disrupt our body’s circadian rhythm or natural sleep cycle.

For example, one study found that exposure to blue light from an e-reader before bed caused participants to spend more time trying to fall asleep. When they did fall asleep, they experienced fewer REM sleep cycles and still woke up tired.

Blue light suppresses your body’s natural production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle. When our melatonin levels are low, we feel alert, which is what we want during the day. However, when it’s time for bed, low melatonin levels make it challenging to fall asleep and remain asleep through the night.

Ongoing sleep loss can have serious long-term consequences. Decades of research have concluded that sleep loss and disorders are associated with health risks, including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and psychiatric disorders.

So, if you’re using your phone in bed before going to sleep, you may unknowingly trick your brain into thinking it isn’t bedtime. And unfortunately, this can have severe effects on your health in the long run.

Insomnia

Most of us are guilty of spending too much time on our phones, which can significantly impact our sleep. But how can using your phone lead to insomnia? It all comes down to overstimulation.

When overstimulated, our brains have more difficulty winding down and relaxing. This can lead to restless nights and make it harder to fall asleep.

People who spend more time on their phones are more likely to have trouble sleeping through the night. They are likely to wake up at night and have difficulty falling back asleep.

Moreover, insomnia’s short- and long-term consequences can be severe. In the short term, insomnia can cause fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Long-term effects of insomnia include an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Distractions

Using your phone in bed can also create addictive habits that make falling asleep harder. For example, when regularly scrolling through social media before bed, you may start to associate your bed with being awake and using your phone.

It’s also important to note that our phones are a constant source of notifications and alerts, which can jolt us awake in the middle of the night. So if you’re trying to sleep but your phone is nearby, you may wake up multiple times throughout the night to check for new notifications.

This can lead to fragmented sleep and make it impossible to wake up feeling refreshed.

Try putting your phone on silent or do not disturb mode an hour before bed to avoid being woken up by notifications.

Anxiety

For some people, using their phones before bed can cause anxiety and unnecessary stress. This is because our phones give us a constant connection to the outside world and all the stressors that come with it.

If you struggle with anxiety, using your phone in bed may make it harder to relax and fall asleep. This can become a vicious cycle, as stress can lead to insomnia, exacerbating anxiety.

If you find using your phone before bed causes you anxiety, limit your screen time in the evening to allow yourself time to wind down before going to sleep.

What’s a Safe Distance From a Cell Phone While Sleeping?

There is no clearly defined answer to this question since it appears everyone’s sensitivity to RFR is different. However, the general consensus is that it’s best to keep your phone three feet away from you when you sleep.

One way to accomplish this is to keep your phone at a distance on a dresser. Or, some people prefer to tuck it away in a drawer, so they aren’t tempted to reach for it in the middle of the night. Exposing your eyes to any kind of light at night increases alertness, so it’s best to avoid using your phone in bed altogether.

Another option is to keep your phone in a different room while you sleep, which may be a better choice if you have trouble staying away from your phone at night.

Is Sleeping With a Cell Phone on a Nightstand Safe?

If you’re unable or unwilling to part with your phone during the night, you can still do a few things to reduce your exposure to RFR and protect your sleep quality.

You can use your phone’s airplane mode feature to disable the wireless signals that emit RFR. This will prevent you from receiving calls or notifications, reducing the chance you’ll be woken up abruptly and allowing you to sleep through the night.

If you use your phone as an alarm clock, you can place it a few feet away from your bed so you’re not sleeping directly next to it. This also helps you avoid using it in the hour leading up to bedtime to give yourself time to wind down and allow your body’s natural melatonin to kick in.

Is It Bad to Sleep With a Phone Near Your Head?

Yes, you want to avoid sleeping with a phone near your head, under a pillow, or in bed. According to one study, when you sleep with your phone in your bed, you’re exposing yourself to mobile-related sleep risk factors.

This study shows a positive association between sleeping with a mobile phone near your head or under the pillow and a poorer sleep quality and daytime sleepiness. As a result, we think it’s best to keep your phone away from your head while you sleep.

Another concern when sleeping with your phone under your pillow is the risk of overheating. In fact, phone companies warn against it in their user guides due to the risk of overheating.

This is because when a phone is stuck under a pillow, the heat has nowhere to dissipate, potentially damaging your phone’s battery or, worse, causing a fire.

One such incident made headlines in 2014 when a 13-year-old girl from Dallas woke in the middle of the night to find her Samsung Galaxy S4 had caught fire and melted underneath her pillow. And again, in 2021, a 17-year-old girl’s charging iPhone caught fire on her bed as she dozed, resulting in a severe burn to her cheek.

While these are extreme examples, it highlights the importance of keeping your phone at a safe distance from your body while you sleep.

Tips for Creating a Phone-Free Zone

Now that we’ve covered the effects of cell phones on sleep, you may be curious as to what you can do to improve your sleep quality. Here’s what we recommend:

Establish a bedtime routine and stick to it.

Aim to go to bed and wake up simultaneously each day, even on weekends. A consistent sleep schedule will help your body better prepare for sleep.

Create a relaxing environment in your bedroom.

Your bedroom should be dark, quiet, and cool—ideal conditions for sleeping. Consider investing in blackout curtains or an eye mask to block light, earplugs to drown out any noise, and a cooling mattress pad or pillow to keep your bed comfortable.

Limit your exposure to blue light in the evening.

This means avoiding TVs, laptops, tablets, e-readers, and phones for at least an hour before bedtime. Disconnect from all screens and give yourself time to relax. This may mean reading a book, taking a bath, or meditating.

Whatever you choose, the goal is to ease your mind and body into sleep mode. If you can’t avoid screens entirely, try using blue-light-blocking glasses or installing a blue light filter on your devices.

Keep your phone out of reach.

The first step to making your bedroom a phone-free zone is to keep your phone out of reach. This may mean keeping it off your nightstand or in another room or powering it down for the night.

If you need your phone for an alarm clock, consider investing in a traditional one instead. This will help you break the habit of using your phone in bed and reduce the temptation to scroll through social media or check for new notifications.

Set some ground rules.

If you live with your significant other, make sure they’re on board with your plan to create a phone-free zone. Then, establish some ground rules, such as no phones in the bedroom after a specific time or no using phones in bed at all.

This will help you stick to your plan and avoid any potential disruptions.

Our Final Thoughts

Sleep is essential for our health and well-being, so we must do everything we can to get a good night’s rest. This means making our bedrooms a haven for sleep and keeping our phones out of reach.

If you have trouble sleeping, try distancing yourself from your phone at night and stick to a consistent sleep schedule. These simple changes may make a big difference in your sleep quality.

Nate Devore
Nate Devore
For over 15 years Nate has been obsessed with solving his own personal and difficult health challenges related to sleep, energy, and fatigue. As one of our sleep experts at sleeping.com, Nate is passionate about helping you get the best night’s sleep possible.

Medical Disclaimer: The content on this page should not be taken as medical advice or used as a recommendation for any specific treatment. Always consult your doctor before making any decisions.

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