Thursday, January 8, 2015

Is Your Late-Night Screen Time Keeping You From Sleeping?

Lots of people don't get enough sleep these days, and there's growing evidence that smartphones and other digital devices may be contributing to the problem.

Part of the trouble is what people are reading or viewing. Consuming content that gets us excited (whether it's a thriller novel or a troubling news story, in print or on a screen) can delay sleep by causing us to lay awake thinking about whatever it is we've read or seen.

alarm clock
Are your digital devices keeping you awake? (Photo: Evil saltine, Wikipedia.)

But now scientists have found another reason why it may not be a good idea to be on our laptops, smartphones, or tablets right before bedtime: the light the gadget gives off may be keeping us from dozing off, and from feeling well rested the next day. A recent Harvard study has found that people who read before bed using a tablet or other e-reader gadget "felt less sleepy and took longer to fall asleep than when they read a regular printed book, researchers found," according to WebMD.

What's more, these people had more trouble waking up and gaining full alertness than they did after reading an old-fashioned printed book, even though they slept the same amount.

The reason? The study, published Dec. 22nd in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the light from these devices suppresses melatonin, the natural hormone that helps regulate our sleep and waking cycles. These screens give off a lot of light in the blue wavelength, which previous studies have shown to heighten alertness and suppress melatonin.

It's fine for us to be soaking in these wavelengths in the daytime, when we want to be awake and productive, but this light isn't so good right before we want to sleep. Especially if we're being exposed to it night after night. The researchers suggest that people in the habit of reading before bed reach for a paper book instead of a tablet or other electronic device, or use unlighted ebook readers.

What else can you do to sleep better if you just can't wean yourself off the electronic devices? We'll discuss at that in our next post, and also look at some tech devices that can actually help you sleep.

Next post: How to Improve Your Sleep Without Giving Up Your Evening Screen Time

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