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Gadgets: why we need to find sleep switch

As a new survey shows that too many of us are browsing the internet in bed, Kerry McKittrick asks four local celebrities what keeps them awake at night.

If you find yourself spending your nights tossing and turning, and unable to sleep then you probably aren’t alone. New research has revealed that now as many as six out of 10 adults have trouble sleeping — and it's our gadgets that are the problem.

Too many of us are spending what should be our restful hours keeping up with the gossip on Facebook, finding out the news on Twitter or getting to the next level of Candy Crush Saga.

Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire have discovered that using a laptop, smartphone or tablet can suppress our melatonin levels — the chemical that controls our body clock — due to the blue light which is frequently emitted from our gadgets.

In fact, using a gadget less than two hours before bed can disrupt our sleep patterns — bad news given that a recent poll found that 79% of adults use some kind of blue-light emitting device during that period. It turns out that nearly 60% of adults are getting less than their recommended seven hours of sleep each night, which itself can be linked to heart problems, obesity and diabetes.

And what sleep we do manage to get when we use gadgets has been found to be less sound, and often featuring bad dreams.

But in this age of constant communications and easy distractions, is it so easy to do away with our electronics before bedtime and banish them from the bedroom altogether?

We spoke to four well-known local people to see how they cope with always being in demand online.

'My phone has never been off'

Gareth (33) co-hosts the Cool FM breakfast show each weekday morning from 6am. He lives in Bangor with his partner Laura and their twin boys, Cody and Charlie (4). He says:

I'm totally a gadget guy. I have an iPhone, an iPad and an iMac and I take them all out with me. I never used to be into things like social media – I would have been one of those people who was never going to have a Facebook page.

Nowadays, though, our work emails are synced to our iPhones and iPad.

When I'm in bed I even sit and take notes on one gadget or another. I'm constantly checking Facebook, newsfeeds, entertainment sites and Twitter.

They're the last thing I check before I go to sleep and the first thing I check in the morning – if something has happened during the night then we don't want to miss it for the morning show.

Like everyone else, I use my phone as my alarm clock. It's never, ever been turned off and I use it so much it needs to be charged three times a day.

I have the notifications turned on and if someone interacts with me, say on Facebook, I have to look right away after the phone has beeped to notify me.

It's really bad for you, as you never get to come down and relax. It used to be a rule that I wasn't allowed any phones or communication devices on a Sunday but that was broken a long time ago.

The only time I don't have my phone is when I go to a restaurant – then I leave my phone in the car as it's rude to sit with someone and check it!"

'I don't want to miss a thing'

DUP councillor Gavin Robinson (29) is the former Mayor of Belfast. He lives in Belfast with his wife Lindsay and their son Reuben (7 months). He says:

I have two Blackberries, one for work and one personal, as well as an iPad and a laptop.

I tend to Tweet a lot — I don't use Facebook that much but my Twitter updates my Facebook page. Even if I don't tweet I'm certainly on Twitter all the time.

I go to bed and I'll have the phone in my hand, the iPad in front of me and the radio is usually on, too.

I have the radio on all through the night so it's on when I wake up. I'm actually a pretty heavy sleeper so I don't find that it disturbs me, although I do turn off the notifications on my phone at night.

When you get a beep or a buzz you really have to see who's messaging you so they need to be turned off or I would be up all night reading them.

I should turn off my phone more or be more disciplined about not using it. You always feel, though, that if you're not responding and interacting then you're missing something.

Twitter is very useful and keeps you up to date and to be honest I spend a lot of time refreshing it trying to find the next piece of news that's coming up.

During the recent crisis at the DJ Hardwell concert in Belfast — in which a number of young people were taken ill — there was a lot of misinformation across Twitter.

I was in constant contact with the police, though, and was able to broadcast what was actually happening to people over Twitter.”

'Social media is so addictive'

Marie-Louise Muir (46) is the host of BBC Radio Ulster's Arts Extra. She lives in Belfast with her husband Johnny and their daughters Catherine (9) and Rebecca (6). She says:

We have all the gadgets -- tablets, smartphones, MP3 players. I don't really have access to my own tablet any more, though, because the girls have taken it over. The only time I use it is to put my ID in so the girls can download some free app.

I'm on social media mainly for work but these sites are incredibly addictive -- I've only got two or three friends actually on Facebook or Twitter. They can be great, though, as they cut out the wait for news releases. I get a lot of instant messages telling me about news in the arts world -- less so than with emails.

I have to Tweet to start generating discussions around the radio and TV shows. The rest of the time they're the first thing I look at in the morning. I could happily lose an hour after the school run on Facebook and Twitter.

I do stay away from social media and emails in the evening -- I have to switch off from them or I never would get any sleep. It doesn't mean that I put the phone down, though. I use it as my alarm clock and I listen to podcasts.

I find then that my head is full of white noise. Even when I've turned off the light and gone to sleep I can see the phone light up if someone has messaged me -- the only option is to shove the phone under the bed!"

'I'm hooked on tweets in bed'

Mairtin O Muilleor (55) is the Lord Mayor of Belfast, where he lives with his wife, Helen O’Hare, and children Caoimhe (26), Tiernan (24), and twins Colm and Fiontan (20). He says:

I have everything — an iPhone, and iPad and and iBook. I just got rid of a BlackBerry and I take all of them with me so I can communicate from anywhere.

The downfall of the iPhone is it tends to be your alarm, so it's right beside the bed at night and is the first thing you lift in the morning as well as the last thing you put down at night.

People ask me over Twitter or text why I'm not away to bed and my reply most of the time is that I'm actually in bed as I tweet.

I have a fair bit of interaction from the United States and I find myself waking up in the middle of the night to check emails from over there as they're five hours behind.

I don't know about annoying my other half but doing that certainly annoys me.

I don't recommend this to anyone. I think what we do with social media these days is crazy. There's no reason to tweet as much as we do.

Once you start checking your phone it becomes never-ending.

When I'm in bed I think I'll just send one more email or read one more article, but it's never that way. It's the double-edged sword of the internet that there's always one more thing to do.

I certainly think using my gadgets affects my sleep. The way to end the night is to put down the gadgets and read a book!”

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