Technology and Sleep Deprivation
The National Sleep Foundation has reported that we in the US are in the middle of a 50-year decline in sleep time. One study found that 90% of Americans use their gadgets within the last hour before bedtime at least a few nights a week. They also found that the average college student loses 46 minutes of sleep every night because of answering phone calls or checking messages. All of these disruptions add up to our risking losing much-needed sleep which will prevent our brain from doing its job. When we lose sleep, we lose a lot more than rest: Many sleep specialists believe sleep deprivation leads to less efficient learning, higher emotional states, increased anxiety, and a less effective brain.
One of the reasons for our lack of sleep is due to our staying connected whether due to work or for personal reasons. Some may feel our wireless routine is expected, even normal, and that there’s little to fear since staying connected is so seamless to nearly every aspect of our lives. Unfortunately, staying connected at certain times is harmful to sleep rhythms. Recent studies discuss how anxiety may emerge because of our need to be connected.
For now, let’s skip the psychological reasons for why we feel anxiety when we feel the need to write—or read—one more email. Instead, let’s look at how staying connected to our mobile devices physically affect sleep. Sometimes that seemingly harmless email verification or update does more harm than you’d think at certain times of the day. Those anxious about staying connected are more likely to use their technology right up until bedtime. Staying connected causes neurological disruptions because the blue wavelength light from LED-based devices (phones, tablets, computers) triggers the release of cortisol in the brain, a chemical that makes us more alert while inhibiting the production of melatonin, the chemical that helps us fall asleep. This is why The National Sleep Foundation advises powering down our mobile devices—especially at least one hour prior to bedtime.
The Mayo Clinic recommends keeping your screen at least 14 inches from your face and dimming the brightness to reduce the blue light if you must read an hour prior to bedtime. Doing this should increase the natural melatonin released so you can fall asleep. Another study, by researchers at Harvard Medical School, found that those who read a paper book fell asleep ten minutes sooner than those who read an e-book. Those reading an e-book experienced 90 minutes of delayed melatonin onset — and had half the amount of melatonin released. They also experienced less rapid eye movement during sleep. These effects were further complicated by anxious people because they had more cortisol in their system. Anxious people, in general, tend to have shorter attention spans and switch tasks every 3-5 minutes. Both behaviors are known to spike stress and cortisol levels, thus creating a vicious cycle. Although anxiety may be a psychological underlying cause for checking emails or texts and such every ten minutes, what’s suggested here is that for more sleep power down your mobile devices at least one hour before bedtime to get a good night’s rest.