Reading On A Smartphone Before Bed Might Be Killing You


It’s 10pm, you are lying on your bed with all lights turned off in the room. However, a small light from a device that you hold in your palms is beaming out onto your face. We’re all too familiar with the situation and we all know what that device is. Yes, it’s our very own smartphone! You might be replying to one last email or just ‘checking’ on your followers from your favorite social media platform. You might be physically getting ready for bed, but mentally you’re not. And that may just kill you.

This article is originally based on an article “A 40-year-old man was diagnosed with eye cancer because he did this every night” that went viral earlier this year. The article was about an unnamed 40-year-old man diagnosed with eye cancer due to his habit of using his cell phones in the dark for 30 minutes before he fell asleep every night for a month. After extensive research, it turns out that this supposedly viral article is quite likely a hoax, for 2 reasons.

First, the picture of the redness in the eyes that is used in this article is a classic picture of pinkeye, or conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the conjunctiva, a tissue that covers the front portion of the eye with function of lubricating the eyes with mucus and tears to prevent the entrance of microbes into the eyes. When it is inflamed by bacteria or virus, the eyes become red. Cancer doesn’t necessarily cause an inflammation. This brings us to the second point: the "viral article" had not mentioned what kind of eye cancer this man had. The most common eye cancer for adults is intraocular melanoma, which is considered rare. Redness in the eyes is not one of the initial symptoms for intraocular melanoma. Plus, here’s a comment we found for the article:

 An artery leak in the brain could cause redness in the eyes. Although this may be hoax, smartphones do still pose a threat to not only the eyes, but also the brain.


Smartphones can cause eye strain and also lead to dry eye. To understand how smartphone can cause eye strains, we have to understand the simple movement of the pupil in our eyes. When it is dark, our pupil dilates so more light can come in. When it is bright, our pupil contracts to restrict the amount of light that comes in. Imagine the duration of time our pupil contracts when we are reading small text on our smartphone in the dark before sleeping. Just like how we need rest after we work out and contract our muscles in the gym, the same principle applies to the muscles in the eyes. It doesn’t help the fact that when we are looking at our phones, we tend to blink less and that results in greater tear evaporation and eventually dry eye syndrome. It is essential that the surface of our eyes remain moist in order to wash away dust, debris, and microorganisms that could lead to an eye infection, like conjunctivitis. That’s how our unnamed 40-year-old man must have acquired the bloodshot zombie eyes.


The damage that a smartphone could cause to your brain is a more pressing issue than the damage it could cause to your eyes. It may not cause scary red eyes, but can cause something more worrisome. Smartphones may possibly cause brain cancer. In 2013, CNN’s a programme called Sanjay Gupta MD  discussed the topic - Cell Phones Cause Cancer. In that segment, Dr. Sanjay Gupta talked with Alan Marks, a real estate agent, who blamed his excessive usage of cell phone for his brain cancer. Smartphones emit a low power radiation similar to the microwave oven. In the same segment, Dr. Keith Black, a neurosurgeon from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center stated: “What a microwave radiation does, in the most simplistic term, is very similar to what happens to your food when you put your food in a microwave oven. It's essentially cooking the brain.” There’s no confirmation behind this because a scientific study takes decades and the advance of smartphones have been too rapid for us to fully study their effects on humans. However, both the iPhone 4 and Blackberry have stated in their safety instruction manual that people need to maintain a distance of atleast 15mm and 25mm respectively between the smartphone and our body. This indicates that phone companies are aware of the potential risks that smartphones possess.

Smarthphones also cause something we take for granted and something we don’t see a significance of: our sleep. When we are reading on our smartphone before we go to sleep, we are indirectly telling the brain not to go to sleep yet, because the blue light emitted from our screens is in fact instructing our brain not to release melatonin, the hormone that helps us to sleep. In an article published in The Star newspaper, titled Many Malaysians not getting enough sleep, says CAP , S.M. Mohamed Idris, President of Consumers Association of Penang (CAP), stated: “a regional survey showed that Malaysians got only 6.4 hours of sleep on an average” and “73% of Malaysian adults interviewed agreed that their online activities and social networking at night were becoming addictive.”

Our body needs at least 7 hours of sleep, however the reason for this hasn’t been fully appreciated and understood such that we take our bodies for granted. The reason why we need 7 hours of sleep is that it takes 7 hours for our glial cells, the cells surrounding our neurons, to clean up the toxins that our neurons produce. Having less than 7 hours of sleep ensures the toxins will remain there. You can feel the effect of sleep deprivation immediately the next day: your attention span is shorter, your memory is impaired, and insulin secretion that regulates your metabolism goes haywire causing you to gain weight.

Can you imagine what the accumulation of these toxins can do to your body in the long run? Higher risk of chronic health problems, plain and simple.


To completely stop using your phone at this day and age is unrealistic. However, we can take precautions to reduce the risk of damage that our smartphone could cause us. We have to realize that this technology is still relatively new and we haven’t had enough time to fully study the effect it has on us.

In medicine, we have a saying “Prevention is better than cure.” Luckily for us in this case, we have simple approaches to prevent our smartphones from damaging our eyes and brains. For our eyes, we have the 20-20-20 Rule.

smartphoneFor our brains, it’s also pretty simple. The first precaution that we can start doing is the way we answer our calls. We can start using a earpiece/earphones or putting on the speaker to avoid placing our phone directly on the ears. This is due to the microwave radiation that your phone emits and the close proximity of the ears to the brains.

The second precaution is starting to have a one hour break from your phone before you go to sleep. If you are too addicted to your phone, what you can do is lower the brightness of your phone or install and use blue light filter apps. However, the best way is to avoid using your device before going to sleep. Just pick up a book or magazine and start reading while your body releases melatonin. You will begin to feel your eyes getting heavy and your body telling you "it’s time" by letting out a big yawn. As you put down your reading material on your nightstand and get into your favorite sleeping position, you realize that your emails and followers can wait. You are physically and mentally ready for your 7-hours of sleep, and that might just save you.

Got more doubts? Consult a doctor at GetDoc

Azim Nasaruddin

by Azim Nasaruddin

A graduated doctor, currently waiting for his placement in a Malaysian hospital. An aspiring oncologist who is determined to increase health awareness to the Malaysian public through his love and passion in medicine and writing. "“For he who has health has hope; and he who has hope, has everything.” – Owen Arthur View all articles by Azim Nasaruddin.


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