I have a horrible addiction to my gadgets and screens. I’m That Gal who whips out the phone in the middle of a thinice dinner to see what debates I can participate in on Facebook, I interrupt a movie to catch up on The Sims, and I get so many notifications on my phone that I keep it silenced; as a result, I often miss calls from family and friends.
But my major problem has been nighttime. I already have a diagnosed sleep disorder that makes sleeping extremely difficult, so when I’d wake up in the night all restless, I’d of course head straight for the netbook or the phone to see if there’s anything on the Internet. I’ll even use an app like Songza to play nature sounds in an attempt to get me back to sleep.
That’s what I did until this week, when I found this article that links light from electronic screens to sleep loss.
Check out these findings:
(In June 2012) the American Medical Association issued a policy recognizing “that exposure to excessive light at night, including extended use of various electronic media, can disrupt sleep or exacerbate sleep disorders, especially in children and adolescents.”
Any light at night can be disruptive, researchers say, but in recent years studies have zeroed in on the particularly potent “blue light” emitted abundantly from the energy-efficient screens of smartphones and computers as well as many energy-saving fluorescent bulbs.
Because blue light is especially prominent in daylight, our bodies associate it with daytime, which may be why exposure to blue light can make us more alert and improve our response times. It also has been shown to suppress melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep and is not produced during the day.
In May 2011, Swiss researchers at the University of Basel reported that subjects who spent time at night in front of an LED computer screen, as opposed to a screen emitting a variety of colors but little blue light, experienced “a significant suppression of the evening rise in endogenous melatonin and … sleepiness.”
Over the last decade, neuroscientists have discovered novel light-sensitive cells in the eye that detect light. These cells are separate from those we use for vision and contain a photopigment called melanopsin that is particularly sensitive to blue light. Scientists think this light-detecting mechanism, which regulates our sense of night and day and time of year, evolved before the ability to see.
“Blue light preferentially alerts the brain, suppresses the melatonin and shifts your body clock all at the same time,” said Harvard Medical School sleep researcher Steven Lockley. “Your brain is more alert now and thinks it’s daytime because we have evolved to only see bright light during the day.”
While keeping the TV on at night is still a bad idea, the light emitting from it isn’t as close to our faces as that from a tablet, e-reader or smartphone. These bright screens are messing with our brains, making us think it’s the daytime. The article doesn’t really say anything about E-paper-based e-readers, which are designed to be gentler on the eyes anyway.
I am a bit skeptical of medical studies, but as a gal with already-existing sleeping problems (and who’s been alerted that it might have something to do with my Internet addiction,) I decided to take this information and put it to use. So here’s what I’m doing at night, starting at about an hour before I go to sleep:
- Place all electronic devices in the living room or office, separate from the bedroom.
- Turn on a floor lamp – one that doesn’t shine light directly at me – and use it as light for reading a book on my e-paper Kindle Touch. I’m not using my LED-based booklight anymore.
- Keep my area quiet and my bed comfortable.
For the most part, this has resulted in me drifting off to sleep more quickly than I did before; usually after 20-30 minutes. I have had a few problems, including last night, when I was just plain restless. In addition, I do find myself still taking long naps (more than an hour) during the day. But during most nights in the past week, I’ve been able to sleep for six hours. That’s a very big deal for me, as usually I find myself waking up after two or three hours of sleep and being unable to go back to sleep.
So, put it down! Get some sleep. The Internet will be there tomorrow, I promise.
Have you found your devices damaging to your sleep patterns? Have you tried any of these methods? I’d love to read your experiences.