Alaska Sleep Education Center

The Science Behind Screen Time & A Lack Of Sleep

Posted by Jennifer Hines

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on Oct 21, 2020 11:42:31 AM


Screen time and quality sleep do not go together.

As you should be aware, many things cause a lack of sleep. You can look at a long list of emotional, physical, and environmental factors that will keep you up at night. It varies from person to person, primarily depending on how you live your life. For instance, someone with a high-stress job and lots of responsibilities may suffer from stress-induced insomnia. On the other hand, someone else may have a relaxing job, but their lack of sleep is caused by chronic back pain. 

Today, we're going to explore a common cause of insomnia in modern society. Yes, as the title suggests, we're looking at the link between excessive screen time and a lack of sleep. The brief summary is that too much screen time will directly impact your ability to fall asleep. In essence, you will sleep less if you are constantly staring at your phone or sitting in front of a computer. What we want to know is, why? Why is there a link between these two things - what does the science say about it?

Blue Light

When you stare at an electronic device with a screen, you subject your eyes to different light wavelengths. Some of these are completely harmless and don't cause many problems. After all, our eyes get light from the sun and interior lighting throughout the day. So, some light exposure doesn't harm us or create sleeping concerns. 

Blue light is a specific wavelength that's emitted by electronic devices. The screen you're staring at right now will emit this light straight into your eyes. Studies have revealed this is the key link between screen time and a lack of sleep. Well, it's not so much the blue light itself, more the length of time you subject yourself to it!

Why is Blue Light bad for your sleep pattern?

All wavelengths of light will trigger responses in your brain. Essentially, light suppresses the release of sleep hormones. The main concern is your production of melatonin, which is used to help stimulate sleep. When this is interrupted, your body doesn't know when to shut down and rest. This is why we don't feel the need to sleep during daylight hours. The light from the sun and other lighting suppress the release of melatonin in your body. When the sun sets and darkness falls over the world, we get less light, and melatonin can slowly be released. 

The problem with blue light is twofold. Firstly, it has a greater impact on your sleep hormones than other wavelengths. Blue light exposure will increase the delay of melatonin in your body. To make matters worse, you expose yourself to it for hours a day. Think about how many hours you spend on your smartphone or computer. When you're not using either device, you're probably watching TV! The problem extends when you consider how late into the evening you stay on these devices. It can be 10pm, and you're still scrolling through Twitter on your smartphone or tablet. 

Therefore, you have this continued exposure to blue light, creating the ideal conditions for insomnia. Your body is tricked into thinking that it's still daytime, so it doesn't release melatonin. This can keep you awake for hours after you should be asleep! Therefore, you wake up feeling groggy and half-rested, then the cycle starts again. 

What can you do to prevent the negative effects of Blue Light?

At this point, you feel quite worried. Your days literally revolve around staring at screens - it's unavoidable. Literally, some of you have to work at a computer from 9-5 every single day. You may like to game or just stay updated with social media in your spare time. So, how can you possibly prevent the negative effects of blue light? 

Realistically, you have two main options:

  • Reduce screen time
  • Protect your eyes

Reducing screen time is challenging, as it feels impossible to do. Obviously, you can't reduce screen time at work. Don't worry; you can focus on protecting your eyes instead. However, it's worth being more conscious of how much time you spend looking at electronic devices outside of working hours. Instead of staying on your phone in the evening, read a book! It's a simple little change that can chop a few hours off your daily screen time. 

Protecting your eyes is probably the best way to deal with blue light. Here, you have two main approaches:

Blue Light Glasses

You can buy special glasses that block blue light from entering your eyes. These glasses are available from various eyeglasses shops, and most celebs shop here to get some stylish pairs. Regardless of where you buy them from, they work in the same way. The lenses prevent blue light from affecting your brain, allowing your body to produce melatonin. The great thing about blue light glasses is that you can wear them the whole time you look at screens. Instead of exposing yourself to blue light for 7 hours a day, you keep your eyes protected. 

Night Mode

The majority of modern devices will have a night mode setting for the screen. Here, you can change the screen brightness and tone to reduce the amount of blue light. It basically dims and softens the colors, making it easier on your eyes. This is a great setting to use at night, and I think some iPhones can be configured to automatically shift to this setting when the sunsets. You can use this on its own or alongside blue light glasses for an enhanced effect. 

In conclusion, the science behind screen time and a lack of sleep is relatively simple. It all revolves around the artificial blue light emitted by these devices. This light is really good at suppressing melatonin, the hormone responsible for inducing sleep. When this isn't produced at the right time, you will stay awake for a lot longer than planned. The more hours of screen time you rack up, the harder it will be to fall asleep due to suppressed melatonin levels. Using blue light glasses and tweaking your display settings will help you reduce blue light exposure, boosting your melatonin levels, and inducing sleep!

Evidence is mounting that the screen time/sleep deprivation correlation might affect children and teenagers even more than adults. The latest study comes from a high school junior who won the 2013 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for her research that discovered that adolescents who partook in more than 3.5 hours of screen time a day were more likely to suffer sleep deprivation than those with only two hours of screen time.

So what should you do to reduce the effects of screen time at night to possibly stave off sleep deprivation? Reducing the brightness of your device can help, as well as using amber-colored glasses when watching a screen after the sun goes down. But the obvious answer is to resist watching too much TV or using your smartphone in the hour or two before bedtime. Find some other way to wind down, including reading a book—not on your tablet, but the 20th century way with pages and a bookmark. Not turning on your television or laptop right before bed will give your brain a rest, in more ways than one.

If you think it may be more than too much tv or computer time, contact Alaska Sleep Clinic for a free 10 minute phone consulation.

If you wake up in the middle of the night,

do you find yourself checking your emails on your smartphone?   

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Topics: insomnia, blue light screen, poor sleep, resistance training

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