Over the last 50 years, Americans have lost about an hour and a half of sleep — and our beloved phones, e-readers, computers, and televisions are largely to blame, Maria Konnikova writes in a three-part series on sleep for the New Yorker.
Australians lose a whole lot of sleep, due to stress-related issues, too.
Of course, genetics, eating and exercise habits, and consumption of alcohol and nicotine influences our ability to fall asleep. Regardless, 69% of Americans reporting insufficient sleep, according to the New Yorker.
But one of the most important elements that affects our ability to fall asleep is light.
Photoreceptors in our eyes respond to changes in light and regulate our circadian rhythms. Research suggests that by pumping up our exposure to devices that emit blue light, like smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc., we’ve been disrupting our sleep cycles.
Blue light in particular is so important because our bodies interpret it as daylight. Blue light essentially tells our body that it’s not time for sleep yet.
In one study, the author and his colleagues tested the effects of blue light on sleep by asking people to read either an e-book or a printed book before bed four hours before bed, for five evenings in a row. The 12 participants in the 2014 study who had read an e-book showed later releases in melatonin, an important sleep hormone, compared with those who had read a printed book.
Many studies have emerged over the years that suggest our bodies need darkness to function properly. So being exposed to too much light could disrupt our circadian rhythm, the internal clock that helps guide when we fall asleep and when we wake up. Some research also suggests messing with this clock can also increase our risk of developing obesity, diabetes, and breast cancer.
While many people turn to sleep aids to counteract difficulties at night, The New Yorker notes that other, natural ways to facilitate sleep include yoga, meditation, or tai chi and that adopting good sleep hygiene (avoiding alcohol and nicotine, exercising regularly, going to bed at the same time every day) is key.
Many blue lights filters are also now available for most devices as well as special glasses designed to block the blue light emanating from devices.
There are even special apps for smartphones that adjust the colour of your screen depending on the time of the day. In the morning, for example, the light will be the normal ‘blue’ light, but as the day goes on, the colours will start to change and become warmer.
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