How to manage screen time for a better night’s sleep and a better day.
It’s 11:45 a.m. and the only light in your room is coming from your laptop as you finish watching that “I-swear-to-god-this-is-the-last-episode” episode on Netflix. The 14-second counter winds down toward the next episode as you glance at the clock on your smartphone and think, if I watch just one more, and go to bed right after, I can get a decent night’s sleep. Unfortunately that’s not what will happen.
A study by The National Sleep Foundation shows that 90 percent of American adults use an electronic device within the last hour before bedtime. Unfortunately, using devices that emit LED lights—including smartphones, tablets, and computers—while in bed can have large negative effects on the sleep process that can follow people into their waking lives.
The issue is this: electronics emit blue wavelength light that mimics the same light we are exposed to naturally everyday. That light produces chemicals like cortisol, which promotes wakefulness. But as the sun sets, it emits red wavelength light that tells the brain to produce melatonin, which makes us sleepy. A device at full brightness is all it takes to tell our brain to wake up.
Cierra Larson, a student at the University of Minnesota, uses her smartphone and computer for a few hours every night until she is ready to fall asleep. “When I was a kid I would always read in bed, so I feel like I just need something to do before I am actually tired enough to sleep,” Larson says, adding that she doesn’t worry about how her electronics affect her sleep.
In a small study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers compared the effects of e-books and printed books on sleep. They found that participants, who used e-books before bed took longer to fall asleep, had suppressed levels of melatonin, delayed and reduced amounts of REM sleep, and less alertness in the morning.
Further research suggests they may also be at an increased risk of developing diabetes, obesity, and breast cancer. “The daily act of thinking and using your brain produces a variety of toxins and discarded molecules, and your brain releases spinal fluid to flush them out,” Larry Rosen, an international expert on the psychology of technology at California State University, says. “Without a good night’s sleep, none of these are accomplished, so we don’t learn and we don’t start the day with a clean fresh brain.”
Rosen suggests the following steps to eliminate or decrease the negative effects that electronic devices have on our sleep:
- Stop using technology with LED-based lighting at least an hour before bedtime.
- Put your phone in another room and do not check it when you wake up.
- If you have to use digital devices late at night, make sure to dim the brightness as much as possible and keep it at least 14 inches from your face.