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What damage is screen time before bed inflicting on your health?

30-06-2015

What damage is screen time before bed inflicting on your health?

Parents around the world have known something science is only beginning to understand, and that is the importance of turning off screens well before bedtime. If you are old enough to remember your parents shuffling across the shag carpeting to flick off the manual knob on the television and shoo you away to read before bed, you will have an all new respect for their intuition regarding the damaging effects of sitting yourself in front of screens right up until bed time.

This has been an issue for televisions viewers for years, but now it has become an issue for avid readers and those who like to link up with friends through social media as they settle in for the night. Many people use iPads or other tablets to download books and while it is convenient, studies show that it could be damaging your sleep and therefore your overall health. Some studies indicate that up to ninety percent of Americans use some form electronic device before sleeping, and that probably is an accurate statistic for Australians. We are obsessed with information, connectivity, and our electronic ‘toys’. While these items may be improving our lives in many areas, our sleep cycles are taking a serious hit. 

Screen Time Before Bed

Here are a few reasons for this growing problem:

  1. Screens Make it Harder to Fall Asleep:
    New research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that regardless of the type of device, screen time can damage one’s ability to fall asleep. One of the neuroscientists in the study informed people that the use of screens, such as eReaders, laptops, smartphones, and some televisions could suppress melatonin levels. Melatonin is essential for becoming ‘sleepy’. People who used screens were more alert and had more trouble falling asleep than people reading printed material. This research backs older studies that paved the way by giving some indication that screens could be inhibiting people’s ability to fall asleep properly.
     
  2. Sleep Quality Effects Life Quality:
    You may want to shrug off these studies because it can be enjoyable to use your electronic gadgets before bed. Let’s face it, most of us don’t have enough leisure time during the day and we want to take it where we can! However, if you want to feel well during the day, it is important to optimise sleep. One way to do that is to put down the mobile phone, turn off the tablet, and pick up a good old book. Technology is changing fast, but biochemistry doesn’t adapt in one generation. If you want to feel well and alert during the day, you need to recognise what your body does and does not need.
     
  3. Is the Use of a Screen Worth Heart Damage and Obesity:
    Let’s deviate from the studies we previously noted. Many things happen during sleep to repair and maintain our bodies. A lack of adequate sleep or poor sleep quality can have far reaching effects on your health. For example, the mechanism of weight loss happens during sleep. This is a time when your body is able to focus on things other than walking, running, moving around, etc. In order to reach or maintain a healthy weight, it is essential to get a good night’s sleep. Other health problems caused by sleep deficits include cardiovascular problems and depression.
     
  4. What if You Can’t Turn it Off?
    Sometimes there may be reasons that you need to use your screen into the night. Perhaps you promised your loved one a face to face chat before bed or you need to read some important emails. Perhaps there is no printer and you want to review some documents. In this case, there are a few tricks that may help a bit. One idea includes a special filter that helps decrease the amount of blue light from your screen. Some Android devices have an app for this, but you may need to buy an actual filter that can be applied if the app isn’t available on your device. The same type of filter can be physically applied to a computer screen. Several studies have shown that it is the blue light that suppresses melatonin and keeps you from becoming drowsy.

    There is no guarantee that this type of filter will completely solve the problem of sleeplessness that comes from using screens, but it offers the best solution at present. Of course, you must also consider the content of what you are reading. Obviously, reading a series of rants and tirades on social media will do nothing to settle you in for sleep. Likewise, reviewing stressful documents for work or personal finances are likely to keep you awake whether you read them on a screen or on paper.
     
  5. Know When to Turn it Off:
    The studies performed at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute found that the artificial light could affect brain chemistry by doing a series of tests using tablets. They, too, showed that the level of melatonin was impacted by the artificial light. Since melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep cycle, they wanted to see how sleep might be affected. According to their results, the use of an iPad, iPad 2, or PC tablet for two hours at night caused a twenty two percent reduction in melatonin levels. Similar results were found in a study involving college students who used computers at night.


While people may feel that they are relaxing as they read, play games, watch movies, or face time with friends; the fact is that there is a clear connection between reduced melatonin and screen use before bed. While filters may help to a certain extent, it would appear that the best solution is to turn off the devices well before it is time to sleep. As a society we have greatly underestimated the power of sleep, but recent studies are showing that sleep is a great tool in achieving optimal health that cannot be substituted with anything else. We need to respect the need for appropriate sleep, turn off the tablets, and pick up a good book.

Further Reading:
If you enjoyed this article you might also find the below of interest:
How does stress affect how you sleep and work?
How to get the perfect night's sleep.
The dangers of sleep deprivation and the lack of melatonin.
 


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