EMF: the paradox of sleeping apps


Over the course of the last 50 years, technology has increasingly secured its place as an integral part of our day to day habits and has consequently permeated many aspects of our modern lifestyles.

Its positive effects on our lives cannot be denied and can be witnessed all around us; with notably a gain of time due to the sophistication of Information and Communication Technology, this has impacted the working sphere as well as the leisure one- making it possible to access e-mails, music, articles and movies on demand, and share them almost simultaneously.

So, is It harmful to spend too much time connected or in proximity of electrical appliances?

Psychological effects put aside, this article will focus on the dysfunctional physiological effects that being around Electro-Magnetic Fields’ (EMF) could potentially foster.

What is an EMF?

It is the electromagnetic field which surrounds an electrical appliance which makes it possible for it to emit, transmit and receive a signal.

For example, electromagnetic energy exists between the electromagnetic range of waves between FM radio and satellite stations. These EMF frequencies help power electronic devices. A mechanism that comes into play when making a cell phone call for example.

According to the SCENIHR (Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks), EMFs potential harmful effects have been researched by being divided into four sub-sections according to frequency (f) range:

  1. radio frequency (RF) (100 kHz < f ≤ 300 GHz),
  2. intermediate frequency (IF) (300 Hz < f ≤100 kHz),
  3. extremely low frequency (ELF) (0< f ≤ 300 Hz),
  4. and static (0 Hz). [1]


Phones rank as an RF, in the Non-ionizing radiation category.

It is important to note that radiation is all around us. It’s been part of our environment, it is emitted by the sun and affects us daily- the main concern of this article therefore is the effect of “man-engineered” EMFs which leads to humans being exposed to cumulative and often uninterrupted sources of radiation.

Radiation can cause cell damage and in the worst cases, can cause cells to behave abnormally and possibly become malignant. It mostly depends on the strength and duration of the exposure. This is of concern to us as daily usage of phones and other electronic devices has escalated and often happens in very close contact to our bodies due to the usage of wireless devices or other sleeping apps for example (usually intended to enhance our health).

A sleeping app is an app that falls into the quantified-self category: it claims it can help get better sleep by qualitatively assessing sleep cycle and its different stages, monitoring ‘progress’. These apps however, require one to sleep next to his or her phone.

Concerns about cell phone radiation, and more so its effect on children’s brain development, has gained momentum in the public eye. Although there is no proven link between cell phone usage and health issues, the potential is there. Therefore, it’s all about exposure.

Large amounts of RF exposure can heat tissue, which can damage skin or eyes and raise body temperature which can skew with optimal regulation and functioning of our different physiological systems.


In contrast to ionizing radiation, non-ionizing radiation cannot break chemical bonds so it is less of a direct threat to our cells’ health. The principal concern with cell phones is the heating of bodily tissues. There had also been some studies tending to show that being exposed to RF can have transient effects on health such as disturbing the non-REM part of our sleep cycle, or interfere with glucose metabolism in the brain, which is of concern because glucose is the main fuel for our brains.

The effect of cell phones on the brain is again a controversial and not very scientifically documented topic which is often entangled with phone companies and their agendas. On the other hand, the public tends to make rapid conclusions by calling EMFs ‘Silent Killers’.

Even though it is too soon to have any conclusive evidence on the effects of prolonged interaction with RF on human health we can approach it with caution. To lessen potential health risks associated to EMF, the precautionary principle is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). [2]

Here are some simple steps you can take to limit your exposure to EMFs:

Limit exposure with electronic devices, especially near the head and genital areas.

Don’t sleep with your phone on or near you

Turn off all appliances and unplug them when not in use

– Try to limit your exposure to WIFI routers

Taking walks in the forest, unplugging ( in addition, walking in the forest has been shown to prevent mental diseases such as depression as we discussed here, in “What if your psychiatrist prescribed a trip in the forest instead of anti-depressants?“)

– Use a hands-free headset.

Limit use of electronic devices by children

There are precautions being taken at a governmental level with, for the example, the requirement for phones to expose their SAR (Specific Absorption Rate), which measures the rates of RF (radiofrequency) energy absorption by the body from the source being measured.

This is to ensure that they are within the safety guidelines put in place by the FCC [3].  It is important to note that even the maximum SAR allowed is well below a level that has been shown to induce adverse health effects, when tested in a laboratory.

On a human time scale, this booming expansion and reach of technology is still very recent and like most recent phenomena it has not yet been investigated fully, especially in terms of long term effects.

Even though the research is still young and controversial, it is safe to say that approaching this topic cautiously and following a precautionary principle until further research, is a sensible thing to do.

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[1] SCENIHR (Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks), Potential health effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF), 27 January 2015

[2] World Health Organisation (WHO): EMF project- showcasing the most recent research and conclusions concerning EMF, Website accessible through: http://www.who.int/peh-emf/en/

[3] Federal Communication Commission (FCC), consulted at https://www.fcc.gov/general/radio-frequency-safety-0


Emilie Balloux

Viola Brugnatelli is a Neuroscientist specialised in Cannabinoid circuitry & GPCRs signalling. Her academy and research training let her gain extensive experience on medical cannabis and terpenes both from preclinical as well as clinical perspective. In her vision, collective human knowledge behold the power for overall improvement of life, thus, it should be accessible and shareable. Viola is Founder of the science online magazine Nature Going Smart, and works as a consultant for companies & individual patients, as a speaker at seminars and workshops and as a lecturer in a CME course on Medical Cannabis in Italy, at the University of Padua.

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