If you've ever heard the rumors about cell phone radiation causing brain cancer, you might assume sleeping next to your phone is a bad idea. And indeed, snoozing next to your device definitely isn't the best thing. But not because it ups your risk for potential terminal illness.
Nope, despite what you might have seen on YouTube or Instagram, your cell phone isn't frying your brain at night (or during the day). Still, there's another very good reason for why you might want to tuck it into another room before lights out, according to experts.
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Does Sleeping Next to Your Phone Raise Cancer Risk?
Cell phones do emit radiation, and radiation does have the potential to increase cancer risk. But the radiation that comes out of your phone isn't thought to be dangerous.
Ionizing radiation, which is sent out from X-rays and radon, can cause damage to DNA that may increase a person's chances for cancer. But the radiation emitted from cell phones, called radiofrequency radiation, is nonionizing, meaning it does not cause DNA damage, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). (And for the record, it's not the only source in your day to day; radiofrequency radiation is emitted by radio and TV signals, microwaves and Wi-Fi, to name a few, per the NCI.)
Of course, no one can say for sure whether sleeping with your phone under your pillow ups the odds for cancer, specifically, cancer of the head or neck. But we have pretty solid evidence to suggest that's not the case, experts say.
"Large meta-analyses have been done to look for any support that there's a relationship [between cell phones and cancer], but none have been able to make a strong claim," says Stephanie Weiss, MD, Chief, Division of Neurologic Oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. "As of now, we do not have any reason to believe cell phones cause cancer."
The NCI isn't alone on this stance. A long list of major organizations that have reviewed the evidence also say that cell phone use — including sleeping next to your phone — is safe. These include the Food & Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Communications Commission.
Other Downsides to Consider
Just because you don't have to worry about getting brain cancer from sleeping with your phone charging next to you doesn't mean it's a great idea. While there aren't any strong claims on the cell phone-cancer front, there's no shortage of evidence linking nighttime phone use to worse sleep.
You probably know that using your phone before bed can make it harder to fall asleep, thanks to a combo of melatonin-suppressing blue light and stimulating content. But having the phone nearby can pose even more problems once you finally do doze off.
"A sudden beep, buzz or other sound emanating from your cell phone is sufficient to awaken you from sleep," says Peter A. Fotinakes, MD, Medical Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange County, California. "If the phone signals an incoming call or text, you may be compelled to fully awaken to respond. If you choose not to respond, you may then lie awake in bed pondering who is calling or texting you at 2:00 a.m."
Either way, your snooze time has been disrupted, which decreases the quality of your sleep. And you'll likely end up logging less shut-eye compared to if your phone wasn't in the room — on average, around 48 minutes less, according to one October 2018 study in PLOS One.
How Far Away Should Your Phone Be When You Sleep?
You may have heard that your phone should be at least 3 feet away from you while you're sleeping, but there's no scientific evidence to back up this number. From a quality-sleep perspective, though, it may be best to keep your phone out of your bedroom altogether so you're not roused from sleep by notifications or kept awake by scrolling.
So, How Bad Is It Really to Sleep Next to Your Phone?
A cell phone on your nightstand is unlikely to be a lethal weapon. "The risk of [cancer] is pretty low. The radiation is not deeply penetrative," says Dr. Weiss.
But dozing next to your device definitely could disrupt your sleep, which could affect your energy level and mood the next day (and before long, your health). So it's a good idea to put it in another room when you get into bed.
- National Cancer Institute: "Cell Phones And Cancer Risk"
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration: "Scientific Evidence for Cell Phone Safety"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Frequently Asked Questions about Cell Phones and Your Health"
- Federal Communications Commission: "Wireless Devices and Health Concerns"
- PLoS One: "Overnight smartphone use: A new public health challenge? A novel study design based on high-resolution smartphone data"
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