Technology Explained

Will You Sleep Better With Airplane Mode Enabled on Your Phone?

James Frew 09-06-2017

It’s hard to imagine a time before smartphones. But the first iPhone was only released in 2007 The Evolution of Touchscreen Technology In the tech space, time moves quickly; a little more than seven years ago, smartphones as we know them did not exist — now, they’re the most profitable tech industry on Earth. Read More . In the ensuing decade, our smartphones have become integral to our lives. They are one of the first things we reach for in the morning, and the last thing we put down before bed.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that 1-in-3 adults aren’t getting enough sleep. According to a 2015 report from Bank of America, 71 percent of respondents sleep with or next to their mobile phones. Younger millennials were found to be the most likely to sleep with their phones on the bed, while 23 percent of respondents had fallen asleep with their phone in their hand.

With the prevalence of phones in the bedrooms, it’s natural to question whether they are part of the problem. While its almost common knowledge that the blue light emitted from our devices doesn’t exactly help What Is a Blue Light Filter and Which App Works Best? These blue light filter apps for Android will help you get a better night's sleep, even when using your device at night. Read More , there may be another factor: electromagnetic radiation Is Electromagnetic Radiation Dangerous? How To Protect Yourself? Can cell phones cause cancer after all? The media certainly knows how to screw with facts. How does radiation emitted by electronics really affect your body? Well, calm down! It's not all that bad. Read More .

What Is Electromagnetic Radiation?

To many people, mentioning the word “radiation” conjures up images of Homer Simpson at the Nuclear Plant or fish with multiple heads. However, radiation is actually just energy travelling through space. Electromagnetic radiation is the energy carried by waves (or photons, but we won’t go there…) in the electromagnetic spectrum.

electromagnetic spectrum

It ranges from low-frequency radio and microwaves to high-frequency X-rays and gamma rays. Low-frequency electromagnetic waves are referred to as non-ionizing and are not thought to impact our bodies as they pass through. High-frequency electromagnetic radiation is termed ionizing radiation, as it carries enough energy to interact with our cells.


Mobile phones and other wireless products use low-energy radio waves to send and receive information. While radio waves are non-ionizing there has been a suggestion that as we keep our phones in very close proximity to our bodies, we may be more susceptible to the ill-effects of radiation.

What Are the Health Concerns?

With our world becoming ever more complex, it can often be difficult to tease out the root causes of health problems. Electromagnetic radiation is particularly difficult to study as it is almost impossible to isolate other environmental factors. The effects of the radiation can also vary between individuals depending on the length of exposure, and the radiation’s frequency and power. However, there are some medical conditions and health complaints that have suggested links to electromagnetic radiation.

When you flip the switch to turn on Airplane Mode, your device shuts off all radio frequency transmissions. As the name suggests, this was primarily created for use on flights to prevent interference with control equipment What Is Airplane Mode on iPhone? Everything You Need to Know What is Airplane Mode on iPhone? We explain what Airplane Mode does, when you should use it, and how it comes in handy. Read More . If there is a possibility that electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones could be interfering with your sleep, then would activating Airplane Mode help?

Electromagnetic Radiation and Sleep Disturbances

Sleep is needed for our bodies to repair, and provide a chance for our brains to process memories. Instead of a binary “asleep or awake”, there are actually four stages of sleep Can An App Really Help You Sleep Better? I've always been a bit of a sleep experimenter, having for much of my life kept a meticulous dream diary and studied as much as I could about sleeping in the process. There are a... Read More : N1, N2, N3, and Rapid Eye Movement (REM). REM is the deepest part of the sleep cycle. When your alarm call leaves you feeling groggy, it is likely because you were in the REM part of your sleep cycle. During lighter, non-REM sleep you are more likely to be woken by noises and other environmental factors. If electromagnetic radiation was to have an effect on your sleep it would probably be during non-REM sleep.


phone sleep

However, there is no current body of evidence that suggests mobile phone radio waves affect our sleep. If there is no direct effect on sleep quality from our phones, then could they be causing other health problems where poor sleep quality is a symptom?

Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS)

If you’ve watched any episodes of the Breaking Bad prequel, Better Call Saul, then you will know that Saul Goodman’s older brother Chuck believes that he suffers from Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS). After being forced to leave work due to debilitating symptoms, he spends most of his day isolated in his house, and refuses to allow entry to anyone with a cellphone, or even a wristwatch. In order to prevent electromagnetic radiation in his house, he huddles under foil blankets, and at one stage even turns his house into a Faraday Cage.

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Despite being featured in a fictional show, there are people who believe they suffer from the condition. The symptoms range from headaches, fatigue, and sleep disturbances to burning sensations, and severe pains (although symptoms vary between individuals). The sufferers associate their symptoms with electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones, mobile phone base stations, and power lines. To date there has been no definitive scientific evidence to support EHS, and can not be used as an official diagnosis. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) does state on it’s website that “the symptoms are certainly real” but are unlikely to come from exposure to electromagnetic radiation.

Mobile Phones and Cancer

Exposure to ionizing radiation is known to increase the risk of cancer. As ionizing radiation is high energy, it has the ability to interact with our cells and cause mutations. Cellular mutations can cause them to divide in an uncontrolled and abnormal way which can lead to cancerous tumors.

ionizing radiation

The radio waves used in wireless communication are low-energy and therefore non-ionizing. However, there has been speculation that due to the proliferation of mobile phones — there are an estimated 7.2 billion worldwide — and the close proximity we keep them in could have similar cancer-causing effects to ionizing radiation. Many studies have tackled this but the outcomes have been largely inconclusive.


An inconclusive result is sadly not the same as a negative result. This has led the WHO to categorize electromagnetic radiation generated by mobile phones as possibly carcinogenic. A lack of a definitive answer may make you choose to err on the side of caution and turn on Airplane Mode.

One More Thing

A 2012 study of almost 21,000 U.K. adults found that the average sleep score was only 5.1 out of 10. The factors that people reported affecting their sleep included fairly common physical complaints like body discomfort, noise, and room temperature. The evidence to suggest that radio waves have an affect on the quality of our sleep is at best inconclusive. If people are reporting that they are only getting 50 percent quality sleep, then something else must be affecting our sleep.

insomnia sleep

The same study also found that persistent thoughts kept people awake like “what happened today, and what I’ve got on tomorrow” and “what the future might hold”. True, these are the kinds of thoughts our brain loves to bombard us with. There is a growing body of work 5 Ways Technology Might Be Feeding Your Depression Technology can worsen depression. With tech enveloping our lives, we should be more aware of technology's potential impact on us. There are some things you can do to lessen the burden. Read More  suggesting our relationship with always-on technology and social media may be part of the problem too. To mute the onslaught of notifications it may be worth turning on Airplane Mode before your head hits the pillow.

What Will You Choose?

Looking after your health is one of life’s most important goals. It makes sense to worry about the speculative health concerns about electromagnetic radiation from cell phones. The lack of evidence should give your worrying mind some relief. However, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. There is always the possibility that scientists will discover links between electromagnetic radiation and quality of sleep in the future. Since there are no negative effects to using Airplane Mode, why not give it a try?

While there may be no clear direct medical benefit to putting your phone in Airplane Mode, protecting your mental health may make it worthwhile. Instead of getting bleary-eyed checking your Instagram feed, use relaxation techniques 3 Relaxation Techniques to Help You Sleep Better Sometimes it takes too long to fall asleep. Technology can help us sleep better with some help from better sleep habits. Try these suggestions to shut off your brain. Read More to calmly power down for the night. You could even try building yourself an evening routine How to Build an Evening Routine for a Happier Life Good sleep reduces stress and anxiety. But you need to power down with an evening routine. Use these tips and apps for lasting evening habits that will set you up for better sleep at night. Read More that could improve your sleep.

Do you keep your phone with you when you sleep? Have you tried Airplane Mode while sleeping? What did you find? Do you think it makes a difference? Let us know in the comments below!

Related topics: Health, Mental Health, Sleep Health.

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  1. Phil N
    June 11, 2017 at 8:26 am

    iphones were not the first smartphones by a longshot. In fact it wasn't even smart when it came out.

    • James Frew
      June 12, 2017 at 2:51 pm

      Agreed. Although it was certainly the phone that popularized them, just as the iPod did for MP3 players.

  2. Lynn
    June 10, 2017 at 10:29 pm

    I always turn off data before going to sleep. If I'm waking up through out the night I'll check my phone, usually I have forgotten to disable it. After a broadband electrical smart meter (on my 3 phase service) was installed on my home I had lights going out regularly and other things with switching mode power supply going out. At night you could always hear what sounded like crickets. A long AV cord picked up a constant click click noise. I had a constant dull headache and felt like crap. Go away for 3 weeks (where BTW the was an electrical smart meter but single phase service) and feel great, come home and symptoms return. The nose bleeds that I had never had before was sent me searching for answers. Had smartmeter pulled and replaced with analog meter, no more nose bleeds or headaches.

    • James Frew
      June 12, 2017 at 2:50 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experience. From what you've said it certainly sounds as though there was something happening while the smart meter was in the house. Keep in mind though that correlation doesn't necessarily mean causation. So keep an eye out for anything else unusual or any other ill feelings and get in touch with your doctor if you still experience headaches, nosebleeds, or any other ill health.