Powering off: how screen time affects your sleep
Replying to a friend’s text message before bedtime may not seem like a health risk, but the truth is that it could be affecting your ability to get a good night’s sleep. Exposure to short wavelength blue light from any electronic device, including computers, TVs and tablets can seriously tamper with your body’s normal levels of melatonin. During the daylight hours, your body suppresses the melatonin hormone in order to keep you alert and productive during the day, but once it gets dark outside, melatonin levels rise and signal to your body that it’s time to turn in for the night.
When you’re reading through your Facebook feed on your iPad at 8:00pm, your brain gets tricked into thinking it’s still daytime and therefore stops secreting melatonin. Studies show that two hours of screen time before bed lowered melatonin levels by approximately 22 percent. If you think sending an email on your smart phone is better than doing it on a desktop screen, think again. Regardless of the size of the screen you’re looking at, it can still have the same detrimental, sleep-disrupting effects.
Sleepless in Seattle…and Beyond
In a study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, over 90 percent of Americans are using an electronic gadget or device within one hour before bedtime. While the suppression of melatonin can certainly affect our ability to fall asleep, yet another reason checking your email at night could impact your beauty sleep is the brain stimulation it’s creating. Many of us wait until the evening hours to craft an email we’ve been conjuring up in our minds all day. This gets your mind excited and in turn fires up the neurons and increases overall brain activity, which is the last thing you should be doing before turning in for the night.
Get Unwired at Night
The most obvious way to fall asleep fast and get better quality of sleep is to unplug and power down all of your electronics at night. While many people will just put their computer in sleep mode or turn off the ringer on their cell phone, it’s more effective to completely shut your device off. A surprising amount of the population has admitted to checking their emails in the middle of the night!
Allowing for at least 30 minutes—but ideally two hours—of unplugged time before you go to sleep will help your body get back into its proper circadian rhythm and help your brain stop spinning from any arousal. If you can’t tear yourself away from the computer at night then make sure to dim the screen. It’s also highly recommended to not have a TV in your bedroom. The temptation of flipping on a late night talk show before bed is sometimes too great to ignore. Instead, pick up that novel you’ve been meaning to read. Escaping into a work of fiction allows you to step away from the stresses of real life and puts you into a place of relaxation.