Why Technology Before Bed Is Even Worse For You Than You Think

The sun is down, it’s getting late, and you need to be up early in the morning. Before getting to bed, you decide to spend a bit of time on your tablet or computer to unwind. Perhaps you read an e-book or surf the web, or maybe check up on your news feed to see what all your friends are up to. After a half hour or so, you decide to turn out the lights and hit the sack.

And you can’t sleep.

According to a recent study by the National Institute of Health, you are not alone. It has long been suspected that using technology such as tablets, smartphones, and computers before bed is detrimental to sleep, but it can also have long-term effects on your health.

In the study, conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, 12 participants were divided into two groups. The first group, before bed, read an e-book on an iPad, while the second group read from a normal, paper-and-ink book. After five days, they switched. Researchers gathered data, and the results were enlightening.

Of course, those who read from a tablet rather than a book took longer to fall asleep. However, the effects on their sleep went beyond that. Their internal clock, or circadian rhythm, was delayed as much as an hour, and they spent less time in REM sleep, when most healing and mental restoration occurs. This was all due to reduced quantities of melatonin.

Melatonin is a hormone that regulates your bodily clock and creates the cycle between sleep and wakefulness. If you have less melatonin in your system, you take longer to fall asleep, and your sleep is not as restful. Subjects in the study who used technology before bed were groggier and less alert in the morning, even after getting a full eight hours of sleep.

So how does technology reduce your melatonin levels? According to the study, it has to do with light.

Light, and specifically the short-wavelength “blue light” emitted by display screens, disrupts your circadian rhythm. This keeps you from falling asleep as easily, and thus reduces the effectiveness of your sleep overall. Americans have had increased difficulty falling asleep for the last 50 years, and more people than ever are using tablets, smartphones, and computers before bed, which exposes them to this blue light.

Reduced sleep quality has been associated with a host of health problems, ranging from obesity and diabetes to an increased risk of cancer. Using technology before bed can be potentially deadly.

While more research is needed to confirm all the perils involved with using technology before bed, this study at least shows that it can only help you if you keep away from backlit screens and flashing lights. You will at least be better rested and more alert the next day, and you may even prevent serious health problems in the future.

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