This One Tweak Will Transform Your Sleep and Mood

I’ve done it more times than I care to admit…

Some nights after I crawl into bed, I don’t feel all that tired. So I pick up my phone to catch up on anything I may have missed over the day.

And before I know it, I catch myself scrolling mindlessly. Somehow, an hour has passed.

My kids call this “FOMO”—the “fear of missing out.”

And they might be right.

One thing’s for sure though, picking up my phone before bedtime has never been helpful for my sleep—or my mood. And this desire to always be “in the know” could be wrecking your sleep and mental health, too.

Today I’m going to reveal just how serious of a problem excessive screen time can be. And I’ll also share exactly what you can do to break this habit formed from living in a constantly connected world.

Adults are more connected than ever

Seventy-two percent of American adults use at least one social media platform. We’re more connected than ever.

In fact, a recent survey found that in 2018, Americans spent a whopping 6 hours interacting with digital media (using social media, accessing web pages, watching videos, playing games, etc.).

IMAGE SOURCE: Our World in Data

That’s a lot of screen time!   

According to a 2019 article in the British Medical Journal, all it takes are three hours a day of social media use to majorly disrupt your sleep patterns.

Really, it’s no wonder why more than a third of Americans are sleep deprived…

What’s worse is that this lack of sleep can have some very negative effects on your mental health, as well, which subsequently triggers a vicious cycle of insomnia and anxiety.

The effects of blue light

One main reason all this screen time disrupts your sleep is because of something you’ve surely heard about by now: blue light.

This is the light that’s emitted from electronic screens like phones, tablets, and televisions. Blue light has been shown to:

  • Decrease REM sleep (the stage of sleep in which you dream)
  • Delay your brain’s production of sleep-inducing melatonin
  • Disrupt your body’s “internal clock” (or circadian rhythm), the system that controls when you sleep and wake up
  • Extend the length of time it takes to fall asleep
  • Increase alertness
  • Leave people feeling sleepier the next day

And if all of that wasn’t enough, these negative effects on your sleep can make you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.

In fact, sleep-deprived people are 10 times more likely to have clinical depression and 17 times more likely to have clinical anxiety than people who get enough sleep.

Let’s take a closer look at how screen time comes into play.

Social media’s effects on mental health

A 2016 study published in Depression and Anxiety looked at nearly 2,000 adults and found that those with high social media usage (three or more hours per day) were more likely to be depressed than those who engaged with it less.

A 2018 study from the University of Pennsylvania observed 143 participants for three weeks. Some were randomly assigned to limit Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat use to 10 minutes per day, per platform, or use social media as usual.

Researchers found that the group whose social media time was limited to just 30 minutes a day showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression compared to the other group.

I know bad habits can be tough to break. Fortunately, there’s a simple tweak you can make to your bedtime routine that can make all the difference between a restless night of tossing and turning or a night of deep, peaceful, restorative sleep.

Optimize your pre-sleep routine

It involves just one small change: Swap out the time you would spend scrolling your phone or watching TV in bed with a deep breathing routine.

Pretty simple, right? And science backs up just how effective it can be…

Check out these remarkable research results:

In a 2019 study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, researchers observed the effects slow breathing versus social media use had on participants’ sleep quality and vagal tone. (Vagal tone measures how well your body calms itself and bounces back from stress. The higher, the better.)

The 64 study participants were split into two groups.

Each night before bed, the first group performed a slow, deep breathing exercise while the other group interacted with various social media platforms (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter). Both groups performed the same action for 15 minutes each night for 30 days.

All participants tracked their quality of sleep and heart rate variability (a common measure for vagal tone that measures the variations between each heartbeat) in both the morning and evening.

After analyzing the results, researchers concluded that slow-paced breathing dramatically improved sleep quality and increased overnight vagal activity.

This is likely due to the fact that deep breathing activates your body’s natural relaxation response and is one of the best ways to signal your brain that it’s time for sleep.

Your New Deep Breathing P.M. Ritual

Here’s how to switch out screen time with a sleep-promoting, anxiety-calming breathing routine.

  1. After you turn your lights out and lay down, begin taking very slow, deep breaths.

  2. Inhale through your nose, making sure your stomach fully expands outward. Then slowly exhale.

    If you’re feeling extra anxious, aim to make the duration of your exhale twice as long as your inhale.

  3. Bring your full attention to the feeling of your breath going in and out.

  4. If you start thinking, just keep bringing your focus back to the feeling of your breathing.

  5. Repeat for as long as you need.

You can also try another one of my go-to sleep tricks. I detailed it in my TED Talk video, “How to Trick Your Brain Into Falling Asleep.” (It’s gotten nearly 3.5 million views.)

The bottom line is, you deserve to feel rested, refreshed, and clear-headed every morning. Start off your day with the best version of you.

I invite you to make this one small adjustment and notice for yourself how much better you feel even after a few days.

P.S. For even deeper sleep, try my Sleep Now Audio Sedation Toolkit. It’s designed based on neuroscience, using rhythm and patterns to slow your brainwaves down to the frequency that promotes uninterrupted, restorative sleep. Click here to learn more or give it a try tonight!


British Medical Journal. (2019). 3+ hours daily social media use linked to poor sleep patterns in UK teens. EurekAlert! Retrieved from:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). 1 in 3 adults don’t et enough sleep. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from:

How Blue Light Affects Kids and Sleep. (n.d.) Retrieved from:

Hunt, M., Marx, R., Lipson, C., Young, J. (2018). No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. 37(10): pp. 751 – 768. Retrieved from:

Lin, L. et al. (2016). ASSOCIATION BETWEEN SOCIAL MEDIA USE AND DEPRESSION AMONG U.S. YOUNG ADULTS. Depression and Anxiety. 33(4): pp. 323 – 331. Retrieved from:

Laborde, S., Hosang, T., Mosley, E., and Dosseville, F. (2019). Influence of a 30-Day Slow-Paced Breathing Intervention Compared to Social Media Use on Subjective Sleep Quality and Cardiac Vagal Activity. Journal of Clinical Medicine. 8(2): p. 193. Retrieved from:

National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.) The Complex Relationship Between Sleep, Depression, and Anxiety.

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About the author

Jim Donovan M.Ed., is a professional musician and educator. He's an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.