It’s a common habit most of us fall into. Who doesn’t send a few text messages or check their Facebook feed one last time before they fall asleep?
While it may sound harmless, using your smartphone, tablet, or any other electronic device before bed on a regular basis can actually have a detrimental long-term effect on your health.
A new report from GigaOm breaks down how exposure to the artificial blue light that emanates from our smartphone screens can damage your sleep cycle and your health.
It’s been known for quite some time that blue light impacts the way your body produces melatonin, the chemical in your body that makes you feel sleepy.
Just a few months ago, the American Chemical Society posted a video explaining that exposure to blue light at night essentially tricks your body into thinking its morning, which messes with your circadian rhythm and makes it harder to fall asleep.
But melatonin does more than help us fall asleep — it also slows the progression of cancer and other diseases. GigaOm’s report digs into a lot of reasons why using devices such as smartphones, laptops, tablets, and televisions before bed can be bad for your health, and here are some of the most important points.
It can damage your eyes. Optometrists are said to be seeing higher levels of retinal stress in young people that could lead to disorders such as macular degeneration. In extreme cases, this can cause near blindness. This exposure can also cause retinal toxicity.
A lack of melatonin could make you more vulnerable to disease. According to the US National Library of Medicine, a lack of melatonin is linked to higher rates of breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers.
It can make you moody, too. Exposure to blue light has been said to have an impact on peoples’ mood. At the same time, lower melatonin levels in mice has been linked to higher rates of depression, as the US National Library of Medicine also says according to GigaOm.
Why does a lack of melatonin have such severe effects? Melatonin influences your circadian rhythm since it helps you fall asleep, and changes in that rhythm have been linked to other noticeable shifts in your body. Your circadian rhythm is an internal biological clock that regulates when you’re sleepy and when you feel awake throughout the day.
In 2012 Harvard Medical School conducted a study in which 10 participants were put on a night work schedule that slightly shifted their circadian rhythms. During that time, their blood sugar levels increased, leaving them in a pre-diabetic state, and levels of leptin also decreased. Leptin is the chemical that leaves you feeling full after a meal.
So does that mean you shouldn’t watch TV or use your computer at night? The National Sleep Foundation suggests that you avoid dozing off with the TV on. But Dr. Michael Breus, who has been referred to as the “Sleep Doctor” and has appeared on Dr. Oz, told GigaOm that you’d have to have a “fairly decent amount of light” in “close proximity” for the effects to be too damaging.