EMR and sleep

Electromagnetic radiation impacts on sleep and this may be causing health problems.

An adequate amount of good quality sleep is essential for achieving optimum physical and mental function. It is necessary, for example, for good health, for growth and development, for performance, memory and mood.

Conversely, sleep problems have been shown to reduce quality of life, increase the risk of accidents, depression, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death.

Sleep problems

Last year Australian researchers published the first study in this country to examine the incidence of sleep problems in the community. They found that approximately one-fifth of the people in NSW are chronically tired and 11.7% are chronically sleepy. If this finding represents the picture in the wider community, they concluded, “this prevalence of chronic sleep restriction is likely to have a significant influence on public health in Australia.” 1

EMR and sleep

More than a decade of research has shown that electromagnetic radiation changes the quantity and quality of people’s sleep. These changes include effects on brain wave patterns during sleep—including increases in the early alpha wave activity and decreases in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Moreover, sleep problems are one of the most common symptoms reported by people exposed to EMR—either from power lines, mobile phones or mobile phone antennas. For details, see page 9.

Technology and sleep

In addition to exposing people to EMR, using mobile phones, computers, TVs and other forms of communications technology can create social habits that lead to sleep deprivation.

Dr Gaby Badre found that Swedish teenagers with heavy mobile phone use had more sleep problems than those with lower mobile phone use. Heavy mobile phone users were those who made or sent more than 15 calls or text messages a day. They were more prone to sleep problems—-including difficulty falling asleep and disrupted sleep—and to stress, fatigue, restlessness, use of stimulating drinks and taking lifestyle risks such as smoking and drinking. 2

Dr Badre concluded, “It is necessary to increase the awareness among youngsters of the negative effects of excessive mobile phone use on their sleep-wake patterns, with serious health risks as well as attention and cognitive problems” 3

Similarly, a Belgian study found that teenagers who used mobile phones after lights-out were more likely to be tired than those who did not. Teenagers who used the mobile phone after lights-out less than once a week were twice as likely to be very tired. Those who used it once a week were three times as likely to be very tired and those who used it more than once a week were over five times more likely to be very tired. Study author Jan Van den Bulck said, “There is no safe dose and no safe time for using the mobile phone for text messaging or for calling after lights out.” 4

A German study found that one quarter of 9 and 10 year olds did not obtain sufficient sleep and that going to bed late was associated with watching TV and playing computer games for more than 3 hours a day and owning a mobile phone. The researchers concluded, “Sufficient sleep and less television and computer leisure times should be assertively emphasized to parents and carers of primary school students, in order to prevent the negative consequences of lack of sleep, such as diminished school performance.” 5

A study from Finland also found a connection between teenagers’ use of technology and health and tiredness. Researchers found that boys played digital games and used the internet more than girls and this was associated with “poor perceived health” and tiredness. Girls used mobile phones more than boys and this was associated with “perceived health complaints and musculoskeletal symptoms” and tiredness. 6

Importance of sleep - health

Poor sleep lowers immunity as measured by white blood cell count. Chronic poor sleep has been associated with health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and has been linked to shortened life expectancy.

Several studies have shown that exposure to EMR reduces REM sleep and reductions in REM sleep have been associated with neurodegenerative disease.

During sleep the body produces hormones necessary for cell repair and growth and this is why sleep is so important for children and people who are sick.


Because sleep is necessary for the production of insulin, sleep disruption can lead to diabetes. Studies show that people who sleep less than 5 hours per night, for example, have an increased risk of this disease.

Similarly, diabetes has been associated with exposure to EMR. A study by the University of Chicago Medical Centre found that volunteers deprived of slow-wave sleep had changes to insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. They concluded, “Our data suggest that reduced sleep quality with low levels of SWS … may contribute to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.” 7

Heart problems

People who have inadequate sleep often have elevated blood pressure (hypertension) and this is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Weight problems

Sleep is important for the production of hormones associated with eating and metabolising food. These include insulin (for processing glucose), leptin and ghrelin (for controlling appetite). Inadequate sleep interferes with the production of hormones and can lead to weight gain. Studies have shown that people who sleep for less than 6 hours a night are heavier than those who have 8 hours sleep.


Poor sleep is associated with feelings of depression, anxiety, distress, irritability and mood swings. In a paper published in 2000, L Sher suggested that changes to sleep caused by electromagnetic fields could be responsible for changes to mood, behaviour and cognitive abilities. It further suggested “that the development of sleep abnormalities in persons exposed to artificial electromagnetic fields may predict the onset of a psychiatric disorder at a later time.” 8


Sleeping problems are known to impair cognitive functions—including concentration, memory, mathematical functions and logical thinking—and performance. Many of our higher cognitive functions are performed by the prefrontal cortex which is extremely vulnerable to sleep deprivation.

Poor sleep reduces concentration, hand-eye co-ordination and reaction times. It causes increases in accidents and injuries and behaviour problems. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated that fatigue is responsible for at least 100 000 accidents and 1550 deaths annually. 9

Learning and memory

Sleep is important for learning and consolidating memories. Learning occurs when chemical signals are transferred from nerve cell to nerve cell—a process that can take some hours. Sleep allows the brain time to consolidate those connections.

Sleep researcher Dr Robert Stickgold, from Harvard Medical school, has shown that sleep improves memory and helps people to understand their experiences. “We’re not just stabilising memories during sleep,” he said in an interview, “We’re extracting the meaning.” 10

Tips for an EMR-free sleep
  • Make sure the head of your bed is located away from electrical equipment such as meter boxes or fridges, even if it is on the other side of the wall from them.
  • Keep all electrical and electronic equipment in the bedroom away from the bed including digital alarm clocks, mobile phone chargers, electrical cables and power transformers.
  • If you use an electric blanket to warm the bed, turn it off and remove the plug from the power point before going to bed.
  • Don’t use compact fluorescent globes in the bedroom.
  • If you use a mobile phone during the day, avoid holding it against your head or body while it is turned on.
  • Avoid artificial light in the bedroom at night (which reduces the production of melatonin).
  • Ground yourself before going to bed by walking barefoot on the grass outside or taking a bath with salt or bicarb soda.

from 'EMR and Health' Jun 2009, vol 5 no 2

Here are some of the studies that have found that EMR impacts on sleep.

Power-frequency studies
  • Akerstedt, 1999, Reduced total sleep time, sleep efficiency, stages 3 and 4 slow wave sleep and slow wave activity.(Akerstedt, T et al, J Sleep Res 8(1):77-81, 1999.
  • Graham, 1999, Intermittent (not continuous) exposure led to less total sleep time, reduced sleep efficiency, increased time in Stage II sleep and decreased REM sleep. Subjects reported sleeping less well & feeling less rested in morning.(Graham, C and Cook, M, Bioelectromagnetics 20(5):277-83, 1999.)
  • Graham, 2000, Older women showed disrupted sleep, less REM sleep and reduced sleep efficiency and total sleep time. (Graham, C et al, Clin Neurophysiol 111(11):1936-41, 2000.)
  • Schreier, 2006, Reports of sleep disorders in Switzerland attributed to power lines and mobile phones.(Schreier, N et al, Soz Praventivmed 51(4):202-9, 2006.
Mobile phone studies
  • Mann, 1996, Reduction in duration of REM sleep. (Mann, K and Roschke, J, Wien Med Wochenschr 146(13-14):285-6, 1996.)
  • Huber, 2000, Exposure during waking modified brain wave patterns during subsequent sleep.(Huber, R et al, Neuroreport 11(15):3321-5, 2000.)
  • Lebedeva, 2001, Increase in alpha brain wave activity.(Lebedeva, N et al, Crit Rev Biomed Eng 29(1):125-33, 2001.)
  • Santini, 2001, Reports of sleep disturbance among mobile phone users in France, especially women.(Santini, R et al, Pathol Biol (Paris), 49(3):222-6, 2001.)
  • Hamblin, 2002, Increase in alpha brain wave activity in several studies.(Hamblin, D et al, Int J Radiat Biol, 78(8):659-69, 2002.)
  • Huber, 2002, Increase in alpha brain wave activity prior to sleep and in the spindle frequency range during stage 2 sleep from pulse modulated exposure.(Huber, R et al, J Sleep Res, 11(4):289-95, 2002.)Salama, 2004, Reports of sleep disturbance among mobile phone users in Egypt.(Salama, O et al, J Egypt Public Health Assoc, 79(3-4):197-223, 2004.)
  • Al-Khlaiwi, 2004, Reports of sleep disturbance among mobile phone users in Saudi Arabia.(Al-Khlaiwi, T et al, Saudi Med J, 25(6):732-6, 2004.)
  • Loughran, 2005, Decrease of REM sleep latency and increase in brain wave activity in 11.5—12.25 Hz frequencies.(Loughran, S et al, Neuroreport, 16(17):1973-6, 2005.)
  • Hung, 2007, Delayed sleep after exposure to phone in “talk” mode.(Hung, C et al, Neurosci Lett 421(1):82-6, 2007.)
  • Arnetz, 2007, Delay in reaching first stage of deep sleep & reduction of stage 4 sleep.(Arnetz, B et al, Piers online 3(7), 2007.)
  • Söderqvist, 2008, Reports of sleep disturbance among Swedish adolescents using mobile phones.(Söderqvist, F et al, Environ Health 7:18, 2008.)
Mobile phone towers
  • Santini, 2002, Reports of sleep disturbance among people in France, especially women, living within 300m of mobile phone towers.(Santini, R et al, Pathol Biol (Paris), 50(6):369-73, 2002.)
  • Bortkiewicz, 2004, Reports of sleep disturbance among people in Poland living near mobile phone towers.(Bortkiewicz, A et al, Med Pr, 55(4):345-51, 2004.)
  • Röösli, 2004, Reports of sleep disturbance among people in Sqitzerland attributed to mobile phone towers, mobile phones & power lines.(Röösli, M et al, Int J Hyg Environ Health 207(2):141-50, 2004.)
  • Abdel-Rassoul, 2007, Reports of sleep disturbance among people in Egypt living near mobile phone towers.(Abdel-Rassoul, G et al, Neurotoxicology 28(2):434-40, 2007.)
Short wave trans-mitter
  • Alpeter, 2006, Reduced sleep quality and melatonin levels before shutdown of transmitter; improved sleep quality and melatonin levels after shutdown.(Alpeter, E et al, Bioelectromagnetics, 27(2):142-50, 2006.)

Additional references

Bartlett, D et al, Int Med J, 38(1):24-31, 2008.

Badre, G, 22nd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS), 9 June, 2008.

American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Media Release 09.06.08.

Van den Bulck, J, Sleep 30(9):1220-3, 2007.

Heins, E et al, Gesundheitswesen 69(3):151-7, 2007.

Punamaki, RL et al, J Adolesc 30(4):569-85, 2007.

Tasali, E et al, Proc Natl acad Sci USA 105(3):1044-9, 2008.

Sher, L, Med Hypotheses 54(4):630-3, 2000.


New Scientist, 22.02.07.

from 'EMR and Health' Jun 2009, vol 5 no 2