It’s 10:00 at night and you’re texting with your friend on your smartphone while watching the latest episode of House of Cards on your Mac. Sound familiar? It should be. Polls conducted by the National Sleep Foundation show that 95 percent of Americans use some sort (or multiple sorts) of technology an hour before bed. Most of us don’t realize that this is a big problem.
Research reveals that using digital technology such as smartphones, iPads, computers, and some TV screens up to an hour before bedtime can disturb sleep schedules. The light from these screens messes with evening sleepiness and melatonin (the hormone that causes you to feel sleepy) because it confuses your circadian rhythm.
Your circadian rhythm—also known as your body’s internal clock—is a 24-hour cycle determined by light and other environmental factors. Your circadian rhythm tells your body when it’s time to sleep, get up, eat, and other processes. It also determines when your body releases melatonin, which is essential for sleep.
Basically, because of circadian rhythm, when bright light is present in your environment, your body knows it’s time to wake up. The trouble with using blue screen technology is that the screens are so bright during the evening/night (an odd time) that your body is tricked into believing that the sun is coming up and you should wake up. So it wakes up! This leads to restless nights and sleep deprivation.
What happens when you don’t get enough sleep? Nothing good, that’s for sure! Studies have also found that those who are consistently sleep deprived have trouble with short-term memory and cognitive function.
Sleep deprivation has also been linked to psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression, and physical disorders such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and obesity.
A Harvard study that put 10 people on a schedule that messed with their circadian rhythms found that participants’ blood sugar levels increased and their levels of leptin—the hormone that makes you feel full after eating—decreased. The participants became pre-diabetic and reported feeling hungrier and eating more all day.
But you like to keep connected at night and watch your favorite Netflix obsession, you say. I’m with you! Here are some suggestions we can all use to help us be healthier, brighter eyed, and more energized for the next day.
- Avoid looking at bright screens 2–3 hours before bed.
- Switch back to paper books or use a Kindle or non–blue-light-emitting device to read.
- Get lots of bright light outside during the day. Outdoor sunlight is best.
- Try using dim, red lights as nightlights. Red lights have the least power to mess with your circadian rhythm. Candlelight also works!
- Use blue-blocking glasses when reading or watching a show at night.
- Install a program on your computer that automatically adjusts the color and brightness of your screen.
- Charge your phone in another room at night so that notifications don’t wake you (and you’re not tempted to check email in the middle of the night).
- Don’t use your phone as an alarm clock.