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Google and Apple claim their devices deliver a better sleep; not true, university says

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Shocked I am, shocked beyond words.

A new study from Brigham Young University (BYU) found that a highly-touted smartphone capability claim from both Apple and Google is indeed complete nonsense. The feature, in this case, is Apple’s Night Shift (and Android’s Night Mode), which adjusts a device’s screen to warmer hues, theoretically allowing users to get to sleep faster.

BYU detailed the perception, the myth Apple and Google played upon, and then obliterated it.

“It’s widely believed that the emitted blue light from phones disrupts melatonin secretion and sleep cycles. To reduce this blue light emission and the strain on eyes, Apple introduced an iOS feature called Night Shift in 2016, a feature that adjusts the screen’s colors to warmer hues after sunset,” BYU said in a statement. “Android phones soon followed with a similar option, and now most smartphones have some sort of night mode function that claims to help users sleep better. Until recently, claims of better sleep due to Night Shift have been theoretical. However, a new study from BYU challenges the premise made by phone manufacturers and found that the Night Shift functionality does not actually improve sleep” nor does it help people get to sleep any more quickly.

This raises an important question: Don’t Apple and Google have to have proof that something works before sending the marketers out to shout it from the highest virtual rooftop? Doesn’t the FTC, perhaps, want to weigh in?

The short answers: No and no, which is why IT must maintain a strict caveat emptor attitude at all times, especially when making mobile decisions.

In this instance, big mobile players making stuff up isn’t directly an IT concern, beyond the need to have some trust in providers of equipment as mission-critical as smartphones are in 2021. The capability here was more about getting extra sleep and/or better sleep — something that most enterprises would rather users not do during working hours, which today means 24×7. (For the best enterprises, maybe its 23×6.)

The details of the study’s methodology — which can be found here and is candidly more sleep-inducing than the mobile devices being studied — can be boiled down to the university finding a couple of hundred people that split into three categories: those who used their phone at night with the Night Shift function turned on; those who used their phone at night without Night Shift; and those who did not use a smartphone before bed at all.

“The measured sleep outcomes included total sleep duration, sleep quality, wake after sleep onset and the time it took to fall asleep,” BYU said.

The study found no material differences between the groups other than — and here’s another shocker — people who were more tired (mostly due to sleep privation) fell asleep faster, regardless of whether they used a phone or not and regardless of whether Night Shift was activated.

“The results suggest that it is not blue light alone that creates difficulty falling or staying asleep,” BYU said. “The psychological engagement experienced when texting, scrolling and posting are also important factors that affect sleep outcomes. Night Shift may make your screen darker, but Night Shift alone will not help you fall or stay asleep.”

It then quoted researcher and BYU psychology professor Chad Jensen: Although “there is a lot of evidence suggesting that blue light increases alertness and makes it more difficult to fall asleep, it is important to think about what portion of that stimulation is light emission versus other cognitive and psychological stimulations.”

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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