How Electronic Devices Affect Sleep and Overall Health


By L.H.

With a show of hands, how many of you use any type of electronic device 2-3 hours before bed? This includes things like cell phones, computers, televisions, iPads and e-readers. Did you know that all electronic devices used before bed affect your sleep patterns and health in a negative way due to the exposure to blue light? Blue light is important for us. It is the light that we see outside during the day. Blue light is a colour in the visible light spectrum that can be seen by the human eye. (bluelightexposed.com) It makes us more alert and focused. It even boosts our mood. So how can this be bad? (health.harvard.edu)

 

Scientists have done studies to determine the effect blue light has on sleep. One experiment involved a dozen people where half of the people read books and the other half read from e-readers for 4 hours before bed each night for two weeks. After one week they switched and the paper book group read from e-readers and the e-reader group read from paper books. The end result was that the people who read from e-readers took 10 minutes longer to fall asleep than the people who read from paper books, had 10 minutes less deep sleep and it shifted their sleep-wake cycle, also called their circadian rhythm, by an hour and a half. (thebrainflux.com)

So what happened? Well, the people who read from e-readers were exposed to blue light from the screens. This caused their melatonin levels to be reduced by half. Melatonin is a chemical messenger in our bodies that controls our sleep-wake cycle. (sleep.org)

Although the blue light is good for us during the day, it is not good for us to be exposed to it at night when we are trying to fall asleep. Our devices are tricking our minds into thinking that it’s day time when really it is time for us to wind down and go to sleep. (sleepfoundation.org) The blue light given off by our devices, doesn’t just affect our sleep for that night, it also impacts the way our bodies work the next day. We get energized instead of falling into a deep sleep when our bodies heal and get energized for the next day. (health.harvard.edu) The blue light also affects our brain health by causing memory loss. It causes stress and influences stress management.

 

We may not be able to feel the blue light doing any damage to our brains or organs but what we can feel is the damage it does to our eyes. When you look at a device for a long period of time your eyes become strained, which is why your eyes tear up after a while or start to hurt. It is also why some people get headaches after looking at a device for a long time. The blue light given off by the device works its way to the back of the eye causing damage to all of the mechanisms that help you see. That is why lots of people who stare at a screen all day will need glasses eventually and might have a risk of getting AMD, Age-Related Macular Degeneration, which is an eye disease. (reviewofoptometry.com)

In a similar small Harvard study, blue light before bed was also linked to causes of diabetes and obesity. When 10 people were placed on a blue light schedule to slowly change their sleep wake cycle they found that their blood sugar levels increased to a pre-diabetic state, and their levels of leptin, a chemical messenger that makes people feel full after eating, went down. (health.harvard.edu) A reduction in leptin could cause a person to eat more, leading to obesity. This can then lead to diabetes. Recent studies show that there may also be a link between reduced melatonin levels and incidence of cancer making blue light a potential contributing factor. (health.harvard.edu)

It is believed that blue light isn’t the only reason why devices have a negative effect on our sleep and health. People blame devices for health problems and lack of sleep when really they have all the control as to how often they pick up their devices and when. Society is obsessed with devices and technology so much so, that we can’t put them down. Whether it’s checking emails or texts, surfing the web, playing video games, or just checking social media, people can be up all night without even realizing they are tired. People also go nowhere without their technology. (sleep.org) Using these electronics keeps our brain engaged and reduces energy levels the following day. (thebrainflux.com) The constant stress of being connected and the ability to communicate with coworkers at all hours of the night makes us unable to relax. (thebrainflux.com) It takes your body at least a half an hour to twenty minutes to wind down after using a device, and you get ten minutes less of deep sleep which is when your body tries to heal itself. In certain situations, it is really hard for people not to use a device or be exposed to blue light 2-3 hours before bed. Some people who work night shifts using computers or are exposed to blue light are more likely to receive less sleep than someone who hasn’t come in contact with blue light before bed. This doesn’t just affect adults. Studies show that 75% of kids aged 6-17 sleep with a device in their room. (sleep.org)

Devices and technology are here to stay so we need to adopt certain strategies to help us prevent harm to our bodies. Here are some things we can do to minimize the harm from these devices. Dimming your device’s brightness will still expose you to blue light but it is weaker so it won’t disrupt your melatonin production as much. By doing this you can maintain your quality of sleep and reduce the difficulty of falling asleep. Holding your device at least fourteen inches away from your face with the brightness not turned up all the way will help as well. (sleep.org) Blue blocking glasses are available for purchase so your eyes won’t be exposed to the light at all. This prevents damage to the eye and melatonin levels. (health.harvard.edu) Exposing yourself to lots of bright light during the day will help your ability to sleep at night, as well as improve your mood, memory and alertness during the day. The most obvious and effective way to prevent any sleep disturbances or health issues is to avoid using a device 2-3 hours before your go to sleep.

Digital technology is hurting our bodies in ways we didn’t even know. Hopefully with a little information and by applying some simple solutions we can avoid any of the negative health impacts digital technologies bring.

 

Bibliography

“Blue Light Has a Dark Side – Harvard Health.” Harvard Health. 1 May 2012. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.

“Electronics in the Bedroom: Why It’s Necessary to Turn off Before You Tuck in.” – National Sleep Foundation. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

“How Electronic Devices Affect Sleep.” TheBrainFlux. 2015. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.

“The Lowdown on Blue Light: Good vs. Bad, and Its Connection to AMD.” Review of Optometry® Continuing Education The Lowdown on Blue Light : Good vs Bad, and Its Connection to AMD. Web. 06 Feb. 2016.

“Shine the Light on Blue Light.” RSS. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.

“Sleep.org by the National Sleep Foundation.” SleepOrg. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.

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