Electronics Before Bed = Up All Night?

It’s common knowledge that Americans are getting too little sleep on a daily basis. Studies have shown that the average hours of sleep have been declining pretty steadily in recent years. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that three out of four Americans are sleep deprived. Often, people scrimp on sleep each night of the week … then try to make it up on the weekends.

No wonder hospitals and other organizations are doing a land-office business in sleep studies. In fact, polysomnography is one of the biggest growth segments in the healthcare field.

Now, here comes along a new idea as to what might be contributing to our sleep-deprived state. It’s the cornucopia of consumer electronics we use – computers, laptops, smartphones and iPads – up until the moment we hit the sack.

With these devices shining brightly into our eyes, it turns out they’re tricking our bodies into thinking it’s still daytime.

According to sleep specialists, exposure to these electronic devices can disturb sleep patterns and contribute to insomnia. Phyllis Zee, a neuroscience expert and director of the Center for Sleep & Circadian Biology at Northwestern University, is one who contends that light emanating from an iPad or a laptop “can be sufficiently stimulating to the brain to make it more awake and delay your ability to sleep.”

The iPad, Apple’s latest sensation, comes in for special attention, as it’s a device many people like to use when reading before bed … at the very time the brain thinks the environment should be dark. Unlike the Kindle, the iPad’s light-emitting screen shines directly into the reader’s eye, making it more likely to disrupt sleep patterns.

Not surprisingly, people are affected differently. Elements like the brightness of the light and whether there is extensive blue light – which is common during the day but also emitted from computer screens – are seen to play a role. One way to counteract the “blue light effect” is to wear orange sunglasses which are purported to negate the effect of the blue light; although this might help, it probably won’t do anything for the wearer’s fashion sense!

An easier but equally effective approach might be to simply swear off the computer, iPad or smartphone in the last hour before bedtime. Chances are, your body will thank you in the morning.

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