Teachers Tackle Smartphone Addiction and Sleep-Related Issues
My smartphone is everything to me. It is my newspaper, my social network, my alarm clock, and the keeper of all the things important to me. As a teacher, I could not function in today's world without the help of my smartphone and those are times when I misplace it, I feel an immediate sense of panic until I have it back in my hands. The relationship I have with my smartphone is a special one, but it is not unique and is actually similar to the vast majority of people in today's modern world. The global use of smartphones is on the rise, today more than ever, teachers and myself included, can play an important role in developing strategies promoting the healthy use of our smartphones to minimize the health risks and learning abilities of our students.
Today, we live in a world of hyper-connectivity where our smartphones allow us instant access to unlimited amounts of information. The problems are, however, the negative effects they are having on our personal health and wellbeing. Most astounding is the impact on our sleep. Smartphone addiction has been linked to higher levels of depression, anxiety, dysfunction disorders, stress and poor sleep quality. This list does not stop there, as a lack of sleep has been further linked to an increase in accidents, poor mental performance and detrimental health issues including, heart attack, heart failure, stroke, diabetes , etc. The comforting feeling of having this technology so close becomes problematic and addictive when temptation and mental anxiety are induced while reacting to every piece of in checking in on social media platforms, getting caught up on the latest news alerts, the pictures of your friends latest vacation or to play with your latest apps and games. I found this Youtube video clip very interesting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6CBb3yX9Zs and it states that every time we play on our smartphones we get a burst of dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that is released into the brain and makes us feel happy. This, in turn, creates a “compulsion loop”, making us want to have this same good feeling again and again. This kind of feeling has also been associated with the same behaviors of nicotine and cocaine. Our brains are hard-wired to make us seek novelties and that is why phone apps are designed to constantly give us new content and makes it difficult for us to put them down, thus making us “smartphone addicted”. And it is this that is wreaking havoc on our mental and physical health particularly stemming from our now persistently poor sleep quality.
Smartphones and other devices create a blue light. This blue light has been linked to sleep disruption and in fact alters your circadian rhythm, creating a domino effect which reduces your deep sleep. According to a Harvard Medical School, they recommend stopping using technology 2-3 hours before going to sleep to ensure a good night's sleep.
As a teacher today, I see firsthand the level of disruption, anxiety, and exhaustion these devices cause. Our world has adapted to rely on cell phone technology and it is, therefore, necessary to make a conscious effort to determine which aspect of our smartphones we feel are beneficial and which we feel are detrimental to our ability to educate.
After what seemed like a daunting task I quickly set out and found ways to use this same technology to curb overindulgence. Ironically, I downloaded an app called Moment which helps me track how often I check my smartphone and for how long I use it during the day. It contains many useful features to set goals and send reminders for when it’s time to disconnect from my device. Next, I kept a diary every day noting how my use fluctuated, most importantly I created a pact stating my goals and ambitions for prolonged reduction for cell phone usage. At first, I must admit, I was more anxious with less cell phone usage and checked my cell phone more often than usual. One way I helped distract myself was through extracurricular activities, hobbies, and extra sleep.
Smartphone applications are a great way for teachers to introduce ideas and lifestyle habits in formats that they are already accustomed to using. There are many apps that are great for what we now call smartphone addiction, which may seem funny at first but is actually a growing epidemic. One app called Flipd is actually designed for more severe cases in which users set a time to disconnect and once undertaken there's no going back until your time has expired. Integrating applications into student learning along with other healthy technology tools can be used in various ways to instill healthy habits. One way you can experiment is by turning this into a small class competition and rewarding healthy behavior with extra credit and recognition.
Within the first week of changing my cell phone habits, I noted which techniques worked for me and which did not. This helped me to think of ways that these techniques can be applied similarly in the classroom. For instance, asking students to write down using pen and paper a personal contract centered on limiting cell phone usage. The contract should include one or two extracurricular activities of the student’s choice. At the end of each week, students can document how the extracurricular activity affected their lifestyle. Perhaps a student takes up tennis and sees a change in sleep patterns. Maybe a student takes up painting after school and notes their level of stress from day to day. Offering students that chance to experience reduced cell phone usage through real-life tangible experiences will allow them to see first-hand how abundant cell phone usage can negatively affect their lives. Additionally, showing students how reduced cell phone usage can have positive effects on their lives will be just as important. Reducing stress and being focused on tasks at hand through reduced cell phone usage can encourage good sleep hygiene and result in overall health and well-being.
I believe a healthy approach to this problem is to teach our students about life without the smartphone and teach them all the wonderfully creative and unhinged joys that comes with an untethered mind and healthy wellbeing. Teachers are in a unique position to open new doors for their students and one of the key doors is understanding our evolution and the value of the human mind, being present, mindful and creative that have ultimately lead to our technological innovations of the past including our smartphones. Once we can show the students along with ourselves the value of disconnecting regularly from our smartphones we will be able to solve these challenges.
Deborah Broadby, is a Language Instructor at Nanzan University in Japan. She is has a Master of TESOL from the
The University of Tasmania in Australia and is currently studying for her MBA and NUCB in Nagoya.
Apps https://inthemoment.io https://www.flipdapp.co
The article was originally published in MINDBRAINED BULLETIN, Vol.4, Issue 1, “Sleep”.
If you want to find out more about the MINDBRAINED magazine visit https://www.mindbrained.org/