Our smartphones are with us from the instant we wake up to the moment we drift off in the evening. According to a study of 18 to 44 year olds carried out by IDC and Facebook, 44 percent of respondents use their smartphone as an alarm clock. And why not? Smartphone alarm clocks are easy to use and offer myriad ringtones with appealing names like "Illuminate" and "Night Owl." Unlike an old-fashioned alarm clock, most of us never feel impelled to punch our smartphone when it wakes us up in the morning. Has the smartphone effectively superseded the conventional alarm clock as the first thing we hear in the morning?
According to a New York Times report, it very likely has – but that is not necessarily a good thing. The Times talked to sleep disorders researcher David Claman, who told them that by placing their smartphone close to their bed, users actually risk disrupting their sleep cycle. That is because the temptation of the smartphone and all its features is often too much for the average American to ignore. So people find themselves staring into a tiny screen at four in the morning, wondering how on earth they've accumulated so many Facebook notifications since midnight.
"If you wake up in the middle of the night and check your phone, you will inevitably get frustrated and worried by something you've seen, leading your body to tense up," Claman said.
Most people are creatures of habit. And for 80 percent of respondents to the IDC survey, part of that habit is checking their phone within 15 minutes of waking up. The fact that people are so tied to their phones presents a challenge when confronted with the need for sleep. Harvard neuroscientist Orfeu Buxton said this is particularly problematic for middle school kids, since they tend to leave their ringers on overnight, which leads them to become insomniacs. These pre-teens "feel they need to be responsive to intrusion, in case a friend is in need," Buxton said.
And while people who've graduated past middle school may have a bit more restraint, it is still hard to ignore the presence of a smartphone by the bed. For Nick Bilton, who wrote the Times piece, the answer is simple: Get an alarm clock – the kind whose sole responsibility is to wake you up in the morning.
Another nighttime smartphone risk: damaging the device
Besides presenting a distraction to users in a state of half-sleep, keeping the smartphone by the bed makes the device vulnerable to damage. It's easy to accidentally overshoot your grab for your iPhone in the middle of the night, which could lead to the device falling to the ground and requiring an iPhone screen repair.
If, however, you are determined to sleep with your iPhone next to you, consider getting a protective case that will prevent you from needing an iPhone repair. When shopping for cases, look for something that's sleek but also well-equipped. The LifeProof iPhone 5 case – complete with waterproofing, scratch protector and compact size – is one great option.