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Health & Lifestyle

A Swab Report: The Most Unhygienic Sleep Tech

In this article

From work to a night out, to even the toilet, your phone goes everywhere with you. And the same can be said for your smartwatch and other wearable devices. Where you go, they go. Where you pick up bacteria, they do as well. 

Previous reports have stated that our phones carry bacteria that could make us ill. But what is that bacteria, and what can it do when we take our phones and watches to the bedroom? Can those germs transfer to our beds? We discovered how many people take their phones and smartwatches to bed with them, as well as how often they clean their wearable tech to reveal what exactly they could be sleeping with.

Image of a fabric tag on a white sheet background with text.

Overall, phones take the title as the ‘dirtiest tech’

When comparing smartphones and smartwatches, higher levels of bacteria could be found on the phones. Pseudomonas aeruginosa was found on phones and even watches - making it the most common bacteria on the tech - but at higher levels on the phone.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is commonly found in cockroaches and their faecal droppings. This bacterial pathogen can be particularly bad for people with a compromised immune system. It can also be a common cause of skin irritation, which can lead to significant sleep disruptions - especially if you choose to sleep with your phone.

Traces of bacteria found in cockroach droppings were higher on smartphones than on remotes

Traces of Pseudomonas aeruginosa were found to be higher on smartphones and watches than remotes we had swabbed in a previous study. As remotes were once tipped to be the dirtiest item in the house, our latest research could suggest our phones are taking this title, and we should think twice before placing them under our pillow or taking them into our bed.

50 million Brits sleep with their phone

Are you one of the 50 million Brits who sleep in the bedroom with their phone? Three-quarters (74%) of a YouGov study stated that they took their phone to the bedroom at night, unable to part with it.

This impacts your sleep due to the blue light emitted tricking your brain into thinking it is time to wake. This then affects your circadian rhythm and releases cortisol, which keeps you awake and alert. But, you could also unknowingly be taking other things to bed with you, such as faecal pathogens that can impact your health.

Over 199 million Americans take their phone to bed

The obsession with our phones also stretches to the US, with 60% of Americans sleeping with their phone each night - equivalent to 199.1 million. Although Brits slightly edge the Americans with their phone obsession, with three-quarters choosing to make their phone their bed partner. But, that could mean we are more at risk of bacteria building up as we sleep, as identified by our study.

And over 50% have never cleaned their phone, meaning bacteria could be transferred to their bed

To understand just how much, or how little, people clean their phones, we conducted a poll. 51% said that they had never cleaned their phone with antibacterial products. A further 10% said that they only cleaned their phone once a year, highlighting how much bacteria could be living on our phone which we take to bed and hold against our face. 

While this bacteria could transfer to your pillowcase - if you place your phone under your pillow - as well as your bedding, it could also cause damage to your skin. The more bacteria on your phone, the more likely it is to transfer to your skin when holding it to your face. That bacteria can cause spots and clogged pores. This can be even more evident if you then sleep on a pillowcase that has bacteria build-up due to your phone. 

That’s why, if you sleep with your phone under your pillow, you should wash your pillowcase twice a week. This ensures bacteria does not build up that can be passed to your skin, especially if you do not regularly clean your phone.

219 million people have a smartwatch and 70% have never cleaned it which they, inevitably, sleep with

As of last year, 219 million people globally owned a smartwatch. To put that into perspective, that’s over three times the entire population of the UK or 65% of the population of the US. Smartwatches are designed, primarily, to track your health, with people predominantly wearing them to workout. And a staggering 70% of the people we polled said they had never cleaned their watch with antibacterial products. 

Only 10% said they cleaned their smartwatch once a month. Considering smartwatches are often used for exercise, this shows just how much bacteria could be present on the smartwatches and transferring to the bed when worn to sleep. 

During an average workout, the amount of sweat you produce increases by around 300ml per hour (that’s about the average amount of a can of pop). And a good proportion of that sweat can sit around the wristband and last throughout the day. A good habit to form when working out is to wipe down your smartwatch when you put your gym clothes in the wash. 

You wouldn’t wear your gym clothes repeatedly, so you shouldn’t do the same with your smartwatch. Although, that doesn’t seem to be the case for many…

Given that smartwatches showed traces of Pseudomonas aeruginosa - which can be found in cockroach droppings - they should be cleaned before getting into bed. 

You might think that simply showering with your smartwatch is enough to clean it. But without properly cleaning it and allowing the water to gather, that could cause more damage than good. Bacteria need a moist surface area to thrive, so if you put your hand under the shower and then leave it to dry, that moisture can rub against your wrist causing skin irritations and bacteria build-up. 

Before bed, you can use a microfibre cloth to avoid sweat build-up on your smartwatch and, according to Apple, you can use a 70% isopropyl alcohol wipe or antibacterial wipe to properly remove the dirt.

4 reasons why you should never sleep with your tech

There are many reasons to avoid sleeping with your smart tech. Our study identified that harmful bacteria could be living on your wearable tech, which could spread the germs to your bed and leave you sleeping with bacteria. But, it can also have wide-ranging impacts on your health. 

1. Your sleep cycle will be disrupted in as little as 30 minutes 

Your sleep cycle is regulated by your circadian rhythm, which is, essentially, a 24-hour internal body clock that tells you when to wake, and when to sleep. This is governed by hormones and daylight. So, if your brain is exposed to bright blue light from your phone, your brain will think it is time to wake up and start producing cortisol. 

Studies have found that exposure to phones just 30 minutes before bed correlates with daytime sleepiness, sleep disturbances, increased sleep latency (which is the time it takes you to fall asleep), and poor overall sleep quality. So, to avoid this, we suggest placing your phone in a drawer two hours before bedtime as your circadian rhythm could be disrupted in as little as two days. 

2. Phones fragment sleep quality 

There’s no denying that phones negatively affect sleep quality. If you are asleep and you get a notification on your phone, chances are you are going to check it. They are designed to make us want to respond. But if that happens during your sleep cycle, you are likely going to experience sleep inertia (which is that groggy feeling you sometimes get when you wake in the morning). 

Just one disruption to one of your sleep cycles can completely throw off the rest of your night and day. 

3. They can pose a fire risk 

While rare, 24% of mobile phone fires are caused by improper charging or charging with the wrong charger. So, if you sleep with your phone in your bed or under your pillow whilst charging, it can be incredibly dangerous. 

If you do need to keep your phone in your bedroom - as an alarm, for instance - place it across the room from you and charge it there. This not only keeps you that little bit safer but also encourages you to get out of bed as you have to move to the other side of the room to turn it off, meaning you are less likely to snooze your alarm and feel the groggy effects from falling asleep and waking every 10 minutes. 

4. They can carry bacteria  

As discovered in our study, our wearable techs such as smartwatches and smartphones can carry Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can be found in cockroach droppings. This could spread to your bedding and transfer to other areas of your home. This could also cause skin irritations and, in worst cases, cause infections in the lungs.

If you are looking into other ways you could improve your sleep, we also have insights into how wearing socks to bed can lead to a good night’s sleep for you and your partner.  

Think your mattress is the reason for your poor sleep? Find your perfect new mattress today by taking our quick and easy MattressFinder™ quiz to be paired with your perfect mattress match.

Methodology 

We conducted six polls with 575 respondents to ascertain how regularly people cleaned their smartphones and smartwatches, with respondents able to choose from different options. 

We also swabbed 10 smartwatches, smartphones, and a toilet seat to reveal what bacteria thrives on our tech - that we then take to our bedroom and transfer to our bed - and what that might mean for our health and, subsequently, sleep.

An image of the author, Martin Seeley, Senior Sleep Expert Martin Seeley, Senior Sleep Expert Bio & articles

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