If you work in an industry like mine, where staring at a screen for hours on end is something you have to do, maybe by the time you get home from work, a screen is the last thing you want to look at. Others simply cannot resist snuggling up to the latest episode of House of Cards or Grand Designs after a long day. As media has become a portable, consumable product we've witnessed the blurring of bedroom boundaries. The laptop/phone/tablet chargers have migrated to the night-stand rather than the office or the kitchen, becoming the last things most of us physically handle before sleep, and the first when we wake up.
This is essentially for practical reasons; a late night catch up on emails, book that hotel you’ve forgotten to do eight times, or a late night Skype to your long distance bestie. Most of us can relate to this I am sure! It’s enjoyable to be entertained; to transport yourself to another time and place after a long day of dealing with your own responsibilities. Let alone the practicality of having a device on hand that will wake you up, tell you the time, let you connect with others etc. etc.. – I am sure I don’t have to list the benefits!
However, more and more research is uncovering an alarming number of detrimental effects caused by staring at screens long into the night. An article by Chris Kresser entitledHow artificial light is wrecking your sleep, and what to do about it reads, ‘Checking email, watching your favourite late-night comedian, or responding to a text message in bed seems harmless enough, but the sleep disruption caused by these light emitting devices is significant and potentially harmful to your health’. These screens are classified as artificial lighting and are said to be directly related to the decrease of melatonin production and the increase of sleeping disorders in modern society.
Melatonin is produced naturally within the pineal gland in accordance with the body’s circadian clock, which functions based on corrective signals from the environment (primarily light levels). Hence if the eyes are still receiving a large amount of light right up until bedtime, the body clock can essentially become confused as to what it should be doing/regulating. This leads to reduced melatonin production and in effect, a reduction in your body’s ability to sleep.
Another article by Professor Rajaratnam from Monash University’s School of Psychology and Psychiatry explains that ‘The extent of the response of the circadian clock will depend on how bright the light is – that is how far away the device is from the eyes, as well as what colors of light are being emitted.’
Professor Rajaratnam explains that this research has found that the most disruptive light is short wavelength blue light, which is exactly what is shooting into our eyes from our backlit portable screens and devices!
And it continues. A study co-authored by Dr Anna Marie Chang, an associate neuroscientist at BWH’s Division of sleep and circadian disorders suggests that the roll on effects of sleep deprivation can develop into serious health issues. Chang’s research team has found links between sleep disorders and problems such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This is pretty serious stuff don’t you think?
But Rest Assured:
As with many of the things we love, we are now finding out they aren’t good for us! But do not despair! As another cycle completes, we are moving into a time for corrections. More attention is being paid to the long term effects of backlit device usage, in turn fuelling the search for middle ground solutions so that we can continue enjoying the many indulgences of the 21st century without doing ourselves a world of damage. And this movement translates across a number of industries. There are a few companies developing and distributing technology to oppose these short wavelengths of blue light.
The first solution I’ll offer you is amber-colored glasses. These simply block blue wavelengths from entering the eye, allowing the body clock to function relatively uninterrupted. I could provide you with hundreds of links for more information on this, so just have a Google and do some reading into the benefit of wearing these glasses.
Software developers are also tackling this problem, with apps such as F.lux. This application automatically adjusts your computer screen color temperature according to your location and time zone based on your postcode. F.lux was designed specifically to reduce eye strain and prevent the disruptive effect upon sleep patterns.
You can download it for free from here: https://justgetflux.com
The most obvious but also difficult action you can take is to simply turn off your devices 1-2 hours before you sleep. This habit is harder than most to break because unlike going to the gym or eating healthy, there generally isn’t an audience around at bedtime to cheer you into good behaviour. But positively reinforce this decision for yourself by replacing it with a healthy behaviour in this final hour before sleep.
I have a friend who keeps a ‘gratitude diary’, she writes in it each night before bed. This helps her to process her day, acknowledge her life blessings and just generally reflect! And you just know that this has got to be a good head space to head to bed in!
If that’s too airy fairy for you, this time can be used practically, to prepare things (your lunch, your schedule or your outfit) for the following day, making that morning scramble a little easier. Dim lighting at night is also a no brainer solution that can create a lovely romantic atmosphere for you to relax within- sounds like a win-win to me!
To wrap it up:
None of this may be new news to you, and I actually hope that it isn’t. But it is important, and that’s why I am here to remind you and offer solutions! This is something that really needs to be seriously considered, especially when using a backlit screen before bed is considered a gateway to so many negative outcomes.
It might not seem as exciting to end each day with a cup of tea, a good book, a conversation or meditation when the latest episode of Walking Dead has just come out. But do yourself a favour or you might not have to watch the show to see the un-dead…