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Vivian Giang writes in Sleep Drives Metabolite Clearance from the Adult Brain:

In fact, as part of Swart’s Neuroscience For Leadership class at MIT in April, she discussed the serious health consequences that come from neglecting shut-eye. Swart, who is also a leadership coach, has been instructing executives to sleep for years. She promotes techniques related to diet and exercise, and warns that sleeping next to your smartphone—the one that emits 3G and 4G signals all night—affects your brain patterns, restructuring your brain cells and likely preventing you from allowing your brain to clean out waste material properly.

Is the claim that 3G and 4G signals are strong enough to prevent your brain from cleaning out waste material properly backed by research?

  • 3
    Note that the above paper did find that "cell phone fields" alter brain activity, but it did not conclude whether the effect of this was negative. – called2voyage Aug 1 '16 at 18:40
  • Reminder: Put your fully-referenced answer in an answer box. Don't put your unreferenced speculation in a comment box. – Oddthinking Jul 21 at 11:51
  • @Oddthinking I don't know if this is fully-referenced. – Barry Harrison Jul 23 at 4:42
  • "Swart [...] has been instructing executives to sleep for years" - assuming this is even possible without a medically induced coma, what is the benefit of so much sleep and loss of productivity? ;p (Sorry, I couldn't resist, and willingly accept your downvotes for the transgression - worth it!) – cpcodes Jul 23 at 16:14
13

Seeing this question pop up again, I want to share something. I did not write an answer before because I did not want to dig up an old question without a conclusive answer.

While the claim is reported in Quartz, it is actually somebody else's. Tara Swart's ("a senior lecturer at MIT specializing in sleep and the brain," according to Quartz). So in addition to doing my own research on this subject, I thought it best to contact Swart as well. I did not find any relevant research to support all of her claims (and did spend a significant amount of time).

Here's what I want to share. I contacted Tara Swart 5-6 times and received a response once. Her MIT webpage lists an email1 which I used to contact her. In addition, she has a website where she promotes her books. I also contacted Swart through the website 2.

Swart did not personally respond to any of my emails. My email to her MIT address went unanswered. Only my first email to her (through her website) was answered. Subsequent emails asking for clarification were not answered.

Thanks for your email and your interest in Dr Swart's work. This article (linked from the Quartz article) expands on and discusses the research (including links to the papers) around the theory: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mind-control-by-cell/

Hope that helps!

Kind regards,

Sara Devine

Chief Operating Officer (Asia Pacific)

The Scientific American article discusses different research from two papers (more specifically, how cell phones affect alpha waves and delta waves in the brain). Here is the most relevant sentence for claims 2 and 3:

Although the test subjects had been sleep-deprived the night before, they could not fall asleep for nearly one hour after the phone had been operating without their knowledge.

This statement relates to this paper which does not talk about anything on a molecular level. This is certainly minimal, shallow research and not the ground-breaking causative research that I get from Quartz's quote:

[Tara Swart] promotes techniques related to diet and exercise, and warns that sleeping next to your smartphone—the one that emits 3G and 4G signals all night—affects your brain patterns, restructuring your brain cells and likely preventing you from allowing your brain to clean out waste material properly.

To summarize.

Does sleeping next to a smartphone "affect your brain pattern?"

Possible. This paper writes "Employing a strong methodology, the current findings support previous research that has reported an effect of [mobile phone] exposure on EEG alpha power." However, as @T.Sar pointed out, this review study writes about a possible interference of 3G cellular phones with EEG recordings. "The results have confirmed that the placement of cellular phones near to the ear has a detrimental effect on the recording of the EEG than the cellular phones placed near to the chest; this pointed out that as the distance from the brain increases, the impacts of the cellular phones on the EEG recording decrease."

Does sleeping next to a smartphone "restructure your brain cells?"

Unsupported by current studies. I could not find relevant articles. I contacted Tara Swart multiple times and received no relevant responses.

Does sleeping next to a smartphone "prevent or impede the brain from cleaning waste material?"

Unsupported by current studies. I could not find relevant articles. I contacted Tara Swart multiple times and received no relevant responses.

1Swart@mit.edu

2There are two methods I know: the Contact Us form and reception@taraswart.com

  • @T.Sar EEG measures electric fields, not electromagnetic radiation (of course, EMR could interfere with an EEG). Also, the quote "Although the test subjects had been sleep-deprived the night before, they could not fall asleep for nearly one hour after the phone had been operating without their knowledge." refers to sleep latency after the phone is turned off. I myself am very skeptical of these claims, but it's important to criticize things correctly and not use criticisms that make little sense. – Bryan Krause Jul 23 at 15:36
  • psychology.stackexchange.com/questions/15222/… might be useful for understanding the distinction. – Bryan Krause Jul 23 at 15:37
  • 2
    @T.Sar A static electric field does not produce electromagnetic radiation; you can't have EM radiation without an electric field, but the inverse is not true. The brain does produce EM radiation, as well, but it is incredibly incredibly low power and is not what EEG measures. Again, I'm not disagreeing with you that EM can interfere with an EEG, but asking you to be careful in your terminology. – Bryan Krause Jul 23 at 16:47
  • @T.Sar But not EM radiation. From an EM radiation perspective, it might as well be static. Think of an EEG as a voltmeter. – Bryan Krause Jul 23 at 17:03
  • @BryanKrause shrugs. I don't know enough about EEGs to dicuss this, so I'll trust your word on it. – T. Sar Jul 23 at 17:11

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