Tech Hinders Sleep

Apr 23, 2015

In the average American bedroom, it is very common to find either a television, a computer, an e-reader, smartphone – or all of the above. These objects often have a common denominator: They rob many people of sleep.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 95 percent of individuals, both adults and children, use an electronic device within an hour of bedtime. Checking texts and emails, watching TV, reading books on tablets or backlit e-readers, and playing video games before bed affect not only how much sleep one receives but the quality of rest.

Blue wavelength, also called blue light, from backlit screens is the culprit behind electronic-related sleep disturbances, according to a Harvard Study. Blue light, much of which is naturally found in the sun’s rays, disturbs circadian rhythm – also known as the biological clock – when exposed at night. This makes it harder to experience sleepiness. Simply put, blue light delays the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone, and tricks the brain into thinking it is still daytime. Instead of the brain releasing melatonin and sending the signal that it is bedtime, it tells the brain to stay awake, alert and active. Therefore, many people have trouble falling asleep at night and what little sleep received is unrecuperative sleep.

According to the American Chemical Society (ACS), the brain uses visual information to determine signals for the body, like the proper bedtime. Back in less technologically advanced times (even before clocks), the brain used the varying amounts of light emitted from the sun’s rays to determine when it was time to go to bed and when it was time to wake up. Fast forward to the present, the brain hasn’t changed the way it processes light but humans have changed the amount of and the type of light exposure.

“One of the most simple but important reasons technology affects our sleep is cognitive stimulation,” said Dr. Mark Rosekind, president and chief scientist at Alertness Solutions. Cognitive stimulation is the process by which neurological and electrical activity is increased in the brain, allowing the rest of the body to feel more alert.

The blue light from smartphones and other devices triggers cognitive stimulation and disrupts the body’s process of relaxation that naturally takes place before bed, according to ACS. As stated before, blue light decreases melatonin production, keeping an individual up at night. Melatonin suppression is the result of staring at small screens in the hours leading up to bedtime and during the actual time spent in bed. It is also responsible for poor performance at school and work, due to decreased alertness and brain activity. Behind the wheel, sleep deprivation has also been shown to leave drivers performing just as bad – or worse – as an intoxicated person.

So what can be done to get a full night’s rest even when it’s hard to resist the urge to check Facebook or answer emails in bed? One way is to block exposure to blue light before bed and while tucked in.

According to Authority Nutrition, the most effective way to reduce blue light (short of chucking the smartphone and other devices) is by wearing amber - colored glasses at night. These glasses block and prevent all blue light from passing through the retina that signals the brain to stay awake while on the phone, computer, or reading.

Other ways include turning off lights at home one to two hours before bedtime, reading with the help of an orange or red reading lamp or by candlelight, using a sleep mask or keeping the room completely dark while in bed.

A recent survey says Americans know they are sleep deprived but don’t make changes.

Spurred by the Centers for Disease Control’s confirmation recently that insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic, the Better Sleep Council set off to prevent a “Sleepocalypse.” Focusing on preventive sleep-health measures all Americans can take, the nonprofit research and education group identified gaps in what people SAY and what they DO when it comes to getting a good night’s rest. It was also evident that Americans are not aware of the mental and physical consequences of sleep deprivation.
According to the study:

● Half of Americans (48%) say they don’t get enough sleep, but less than half of them take any one specific action to help them get better sleep.

● More women feel that they are not getting enough sleep (53%) than men (44%).

● Adults 35 to 54 years old feel more sleep deprived (52%) than other adults (44% for adults 18 to 34, and 42% for adults 55 and older).

● Women are more in tune to sleep needs, yet suffer more from lack of sleep than men.

● Women try to get better sleep by focusing on the comfort of their sleep area. Fifty percent of women use a comfortable mattress and bedding to aid sleep, compared to less than 40% of men.

● Almost half (47%) of adults who do get enough sleep use a comfortable mattress. They also tend to have a consistent bedtime and wake-up time schedule (25% vs. 19% for the sleep deprived).

● Men are more ignorant to sleep deprivation effects.

● Forty five percent of men believe they can train themselves to need less sleep, a myth that has been proven false through various studies.

So how do we deal with sleepiness?

● Close to one-third of adults (31%) always turn to coffee or caffeinated beverages as their way to make up for lost sleep.

● Less than one quarter of adults always use healthy methods like naps, breaks and going for walks to deal with sleepiness.

Serious health issues related to sleep deprivation are documented, yet most people are skeptical of the connection.

● Almost 80% of Americans agree that a lack of sleep causes problems like difficulty concentrating and increased stress.

● While recent studies show that a lack of quality sleep contributes to serious medical issues, less than 30% of adults strongly agree that lack of sleep contributes to memory loss (29%), heart disease (23%), strokes (22%), and diabetes (20%).

About the Writer

Tempest Wright

Contributing Writer

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