Digital Technology and Sleep Quality: Keeping You Awake
It’s not just New York City that never sleeps anymore. With the rise of smartphones and digital devices, it seems the whole world is up 24/7. As a society, we seem to be addicted to the always connected nature of digital technology. But what effect does this behavior have on our sleep? It turns out that using technology right before we go to bed is contributing to the high prevalence of reported sleep dysfunction and poor sleep quality.
A Story All Too Familiar
What’s the last thing you remember doing before you went to bed? There’s a good chance you were up all night, lying in bed, scrolling through your social media feed with the lights off. Sometimes we are a slave to our phones and tablet. Analytics firm Flurry confirms that we spend almost 5 hours a day on our mobile devices. This is a significant increase from the amount of time we spent on our devices a couple of years ago.
Sleep-Wake Cycles and Sleep Quality
The evolution of how we consume media is beginning to show drastic consequences. Researchers at the University of Houston looked into the effect of artificial light generated from smartphones, tablets, and televisions. What they found is that this ‘blue light’ contributes to poor sleep quality and the development of sleep dysfunctions.
Over a period of two weeks, researchers had several participants, ages 17-42, wear short wavelength-blocking glasses for three hours before bedtime. During that time, the subjects were allowed to continue their daily routine as they normally would. Researchers found a 58 percent increase in their night time melatonin levels.
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the brain. It helps control when we go to sleep and when we wake. Melatonin is heavily influenced by the amount of light we are exposed to. When the sun goes down, melatonin goes up. As the sun rises, the level of melatonin produced our brain decreases. This process controls our natural sleep-wake cycle.
“By using blue blocking glasses, we are decreasing input to the photoreceptors, so we can improve sleep and still continue to use our devices. That’s nice because we can still be productive at night,” Ostrin said.
Too Much Artificial Light Works Against Us
The blue light generated by our phones and devices is similar to the light from the sun. So, as we are using our phones or watching television before we sleep, our melatonin levels decrease. Our sleep-wake cycle is completely thrown off.
Exposure to sunlight, or blue light, activates intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs). This neuron is found in the retina and suppresses melatonin. Instead of preparing to rest, our body is alert and awake.
“The most important takeaway is that blue light at night time really does decrease sleep quality. Sleep is very important for the regeneration of many functions in our body,” says Dr. Ostrin.
What You Can Do at Home
While some of us feel like we can’t live without our phones, it’s important to spend some time away from them. You’ll find that your ability to fall asleep faster, sleep better, and sleep longer increases dramatically. There are some other methods you can apply if still want to use your phone at night.
Most phones have a neat little feature call night time mode. This decreases the amount of blue light your device produces. You can also apply screen filters that block blue light or use glasses with anti-reflective lenses.
Either way, you should find a way sleep better. Sleep deprivation can lead to a series of fatal diseases. Disorders like sleep apnea can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and more. Take control of your sleep health early in order to stay happy and healthy.