What Happens To Your Brain When You Look At Your Phone First Thing In The Morning

For most of us, rolling over onto our sides and reaching for our mobile phones which we keep safely on our nightstands is such a routine habit first thing in the morning. We don't think twice about it. After all, your phone is probably also your alarm. So what's the big harm in scrolling through Instagram after you switch it off or responding to some messages you received in the p.m.?

According to board-certified physician Dr. Jason Singh, however, this is one health mistake you might be making in the morning. Apparently, looking at your phone screen first thing in the morning can disrupt the normal waking transition of your brain. 

"As a doctor, one of the most important things I tell my patients to do for brain health is to avoid going on the phone in the first 30 minutes after waking up. I know for some of you, that's the first thing you reach for but here's why you shouldn't," Dr. Singh shared on Instagram. Put quite simply, the dopamine release from scrolling through IG, TikTok, or Facebook combined with the blue-light from your device can give you a false sense of wakefulness, the results of which you could feel throughout your day. Let's break it down further. 

Your brain has a pattern for how it should wake up

Apparently, your brain has a way in which it usually wakes up and this starts with your cortisol levels rising slowly, per Dr. Jason Singh. And one of the sneaky ways your cell phone is hurting your health is by getting in the way of this natural process. 

"When you first wake up, your cortisol levels slowly start to rise to help fully awake you and get your body ready for the day. But looking at your phone first thing fires up your brain and triggers a rush of dopamine which is a feel-good chemical connected to reward and pleasure. This dopamine hit combined with looking at a light-emitting device can essentially trick your brain into feeling fully awake before your body is even ready," said the physician.  

What you're essentially doing by getting that dopamine rush first thing in the morning is compromising the natural waking pattern of your body. "This whole pattern completely undermines your body's natural waking transition and cortisol rise. The abrupt dopamine spike disrupts stable cortisol patterns which can then negatively impact energy levels, mood, and focus throughout the day," added Dr. Singh. Turns out, you could also be compromising your memory and problem-solving skills by checking your phone first thing in the a.m., and NHS surgeon, Dr. Karan Raj explained how this happens with something else that goes on in your brain. 

Switching from theta to beta brainwaves can set you off on the wrong foot in the morning

Your brain has five basic brainwaves — gamma, beta, alpha, theta, and delta (via Science Direct) and each of them is tied to different performance states. 

"When you wake up in the morning, you transition from a delta brainwave of sleep to a theta brainwave," Dr. Karan Raj explained on TikTok. The delta brainwave is associated with the sleep state while the theta brainwave is linked to deep relaxation. According to the NHS surgeon, the theta brainwave is also useful for learning, memory, problem-solving, things we need to get through the day. 

"If you wake up, check your phone, social media, messages, [etc.], you skip this theta brainwave and go straight to the high-stress beta brainwaves. This altered brainwave pattern will affect your performance for the rest of the day," noted Dr. Raj. It seems the basic premise with both of these explanations is that looking at your phone first thing in the morning forces your brain to skip a few steps and this isn't great for your overall energy levels and cognitive performance throughout the day. It might not be a bad idea to let your brain do its natural thing when you wake up. Your phone can wait. Perhaps you can try meditating or deep breathing as soon as you roll out of bed. Even greeting loved ones a good morning can come before picking up your phone.