Man using his mobile phone in the bed

It is official. With the advent of technology, we’ve become a sleep deprived society. As our smartphones, tablets, and digital devices become embedded into our everyday lives, research has shown that such dependencies can come with a hefty price tag- our sleep.

The CDC has already declared insufficient sleep as a public health epidemic.
Chronic sleep deprivation can wreak some serious havoc on your health. It has been linked to increased risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, obesity, and even cancer.

Our sleep cycles are largely tied to an internal clock which regulates our circadian rhythm, a 24 hour biological cycle that influences the many functions necessary to general health and well-being. This process isn’t an exact cycle, and depends on external cues to make adjustments as necessary. One of the most basic but essential signals that has served us from the beginning has been that of night and day. The sunlight that hits our eyes sends signals to the brain to halt the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep. Once darkness sets in, the body produces the melatonin needed to fall asleep, completing the cycle.

One of the reasons why we as a society are becoming sleep deprived, is because the blue light emitted by our laptops, smartphones and tablets is sending those signals to the brain halt the production of melatonin, tricking the brain into thinking it’s morning. Research is discovering that this blue light in particular has the most potent effect on disrupting our circadian rhythm. It has long been suspected that using these devices during bedtime may keeping us from falling asleep. The latest research now confirms those suspicions to be true.

The latest study to come out of Harvard Medical School studied the sleeping patterns of 12 volunteers over a two week period, to compare the effects of how our electronic personal devices might be affecting our sleep. Each person read a book before following a strict 10 pm bedtime. Five days were spent with an ipad, and five days with a paper book. They discovered that those that read with the ipad took an average of 10 minutes longer to fall asleep, and also received 10 minutes less REM sleep. Blood tests revealed decreased melatonin production consistent with an hour and half delay in the circadian cycle.

What to Do About It

For the computer, there is the free software Flux; which adjusts the color of your display to match the time of day, warmer at night and sunnier during the day.

Smartphone users can use free apps like Twilight, which adds a soft and pleasant red filter to your screen at preset programmable times.

But the single most important thing we can do is to stop using your smartphones and electronic devices in the dark during bedtime altogether. This will probably require some small lifestyle changes for many of us who are used to using our phones in the moments before dozing off.