Apple’s Night Shift is no match for the complexities of sleep
Apple’s Night Shift, which it says “can help you sleep better at night,” doesn’t seem to live up to its claim, new research shows. Since blue light exposure affects the regulation of sleep cycles, it is hoped that Night Shift, which filters blue light from screens after sunset, will make it easier to fall asleep. But as a recent study shows, sleep is strange and complicated, and a single phone feature probably won’t do much to combat sleepless nights.
The study, published in Sleep health, followed the sleep of 167 young adults for a week. People were split into three groups: one who used their phone for an hour before bed with Night Shift turned on, one who did the same with Night Shift turned off, and one who didn’t use their phone at all. before going to bed.
“In the entire sample, there was no difference between the three groups,” said Chad Jensen, the study’s principal investigator, in a press release. “Night Shift is no better than using your phone without Night Shift or even not using a phone at all.”
This is only a small study that will need to be scaled up with different samples of people before it can be generalized. Still, the results of the Night Shift feature correspond to early skepticism about how it can help with insomnia, especially because Apple doesn’t specify which wavelengths of light are blocked. And while blue light and phone use likely contribute to difficulty sleeping, there are many other variables to consider in the complexities of sleep and sleep hygiene.
The researchers were slightly surprised to find that even the group of people who stopped calling before bed did not necessarily sleep better on average. “Our assumption was that we would have better sleep without using the phone on the entire sample,” says Jensen. The edge, “So it was a little surprising that we didn’t find this.”
Part of this result is likely due to the fact that most of the participants were college students who the researchers said were already sleep deprived. When people are already very sleepy, it doesn’t matter if they’re on their phones before bed, Jensen says. “Because your need for sleep is so high at this point that you fall asleep quite easily no matter what you do before bed.”
One of the few phone-related differences the study observed was actually related to how much sleep participants got. Of the people in the study who slept more than the average sleep time of around seven hours, those who went without a phone slept better and did not wake up as often during the night as those who used their phones. But people who slept less than average showed no difference in sleep quality measures whether or not they used a phone at bedtime.
If you’re a generally well-rested person, Jensen lists a myriad of factors that could impact your sleep beyond using your phone: caffeine, exercise, room temperature, amount of light, amount of noise, consistency of sleep schedules and bedtime. routines, and using the bed for activities in addition to sleeping. And that’s all before even considering various sleep disorders that can make people too sleepy or not sleepy enough, even though they crave good sleep habits.
“Sleep is so individualized that there isn’t one thing that works for everyone,” says Raj Dasgupta, a sleep medicine specialist at the University of Southern California. Some people are more sensitive to light and might find blue light filtering helpful, but it won’t be the singular solution that leads to better sleep for everyone.
When it comes to phones, there are things to consider besides blue light exposure, Jensen says. “All of these other forms of stimulation that are not related to light are just as important.” If you read a depressing article or laugh at TikToks at bedtime, this level of alertness and engagement will likely hamper your ability to fall asleep, and blue light filtering won’t compensate for this effect.