"Blue light" gadgets taking a toll on our sleep

"Blue light" gadgets taking a toll on our sleep
(Source: National Institutes of Health)
(Source: National Institutes of Health)

(FOX19) - Nearly two out of three Americans say they're not getting enough sleep at night. The main reason may literally be in front of them. From laptops to cell phones, from iPads to televisions, we spends our nights illuminated by the glow of electronic gadgets.

Mommy blogger Titania Jordan, whose site is called Baby Gooroo, tosses and turns for hours each night and she thinks she knows why.

"From about 7 p.m. 'til midnight, I am in front of a screen," she said. "I'm on the computer. I'm on my mobile device."

Titania is on to something.

Researchers, including Harvard University's Steven Lockley, have long known that light suppresses melatonin. It's a hormone that helps regulate sleep. But these days, we're flooded with light long after the sun sets whether we're texting, e-mailing, or catching-up on TV.

"It's a very unnatural thing for us to do and so when we expose ourselves to light at night, we tell the brain that it's daytime," said Lockley, who's written a book about sleep called Sleep: A Very Short Introduction.

Exposing our eyes and brains to light actually shifts our internal body clock, or circadian rhythm.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine says it's important to raise a red flag about blue wavelengths, the kind emitted by energy efficient light bulbs and electronic gadgets.

"We know that blue light has the greatest propensity to alter circadian rhythms and yet now-a-days it seems that blue is the color du jour," said Dr. Nathaniel Watson, who's on the academy's board of directors.

In fact, a recent poll revealed that 95% of Americans use electronics a few nights a week within the hour before bedtime. Even dim light can be problematic.

"We've done a number of studies to show that light levels that you would be normally exposed to in the home in the evening, for example from a bedside lamp, are very easily capable of shifting the body clock," said Lockley.

Research shows our health may be at risk, too. Studies have linked blue light and poor sleep to depression, diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular problems.

"Shift workers have been found to have about 50% to 60% increased risk of cancer, particularly breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men," Lockley added.

So what's a gadget addict to do?

  • Have a regular bed time routine
  • Sleep in a cool, dark room
  • "Power down" two to three hours before bedtime

"If you must have screen time before going to bed, then limiting the amount of light that's emitted from the screen would be helpful," said Dr. Watson, "so you can turn down the brightness."

We asked Titania to cut back on screen time. She says the results were noticeable.

"It was fabulous," she said. "I didn't go to sleep right away. But I found myself feeling much more relaxed."

Think about this, too: Exposing yourself to lots of bright light during the day can also help. Lockley says it keeps you alert and helps your body clock reset each night.

In addition, the National Sleep Foundation has great advice on its website, including

  • Finish eating at least 2-3 hours before bedtime
  • Use the bedroom only for sleep and intimacy with your spouse
  • Avoid alcohol close to bedtime

The National Sleep Foundation says alcohol can lead to disrupted sleep later in the night.

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