Did you know that scrolling your social media feeds, streaming a show, playing a game or texting a friend – and other mindless attempts to wind down before bed by staring at a glowing screen – actually wind you up?
It’s true. In fact, sleep experts warn that snuggling with your smartphone can delay your nightly trip to dreamland.
A 2012 report by the American Medical Association revealed that exposure to excessive light during evening hours, including extended use of electronic devices, can “disrupt sleep or exacerbate sleep disorders.”
The Circadian Rhythm Connection
Dr. Sujay Kansagra, director of Duke University’s Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program, has written extensively about how the human body’s natural circadian rhythms impact sleep. Basically, our internal clocks help us feel increasingly awake as the morning passes, and sleepier as the sun goes down.
Our brains keep track of the time of day based on how much light we’re experiencing. Artificial light from smartphones, tablets, TVs and other devices confuse our brains and suppress our natural processes that trigger drowsiness.
In a recent study on melatonin production, a team of endocrinologists found that the bright, blue light from smartphone and tablet displays wreaks havoc on our circadian rhythms. The same study found that blue light from screens can even disrupt the bedtimes of visually impaired people.
While checking email or scrolling Facebook before bed may seem relaxing, the light from our devices actually tricks our brains into thinking it’s still light outside. In other words, what we’re doing to relax actually has the opposite effect by reactivating our brains into a more alert state.
Solution: Night Mode or Not at All
For those having a harder time bidding their phones goodnight, Apple and Android devices are equipped with “night modes” to reduce a display’s brightness levels in the hour or so before bedtime. The screen dims and colors mute, making it easier for you to catch a few Zs.
But even with reduced brightness, screens still emit light. And the content of the show or social media post still stimulates your brain, making it difficult to drift off to sleep.
The simplest and most effective solution is to avoid bringing your device to bed with you, or to give yourself at least 30 minutes of screen-free time before lights out. Your brain and body will thank you in the morning.