Sleep is now recognized to be a vital ingredient in health management. In fact, tests confirm that those who get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night enjoy better health. Their bodies are better equipped to handle the stresses of life and to fight off colds and influenza. In fact, getting adequate sleep has been proven to strengthen the immune system thus preventing many chronic diseases and improving brain and memory function. Sleep is even a factor in weight loss!
An Epidemic of Insomnia
But in this technological age we live in, insomnia is becoming a nationwide epidemic. More and more people are complaining of an inability to sleep. What’s even worse is that many of these insomniacs are turning to pharmaceutical solutions for their problem. But there is one factor contributing to insomnia that many people are not aware, and this factor has a significant negative influence on the sleep of many adults, especially young adults.
This critical factor is the introduction of electronic devices into our lives in the form of electronic tablets, smart phones and laptops. Of particular interest is the effect of the blue light being emitted from these devices from their backlit screens. These blue light emitting devices block the body’s production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and have a terrible effect on the sleep cycle.
Electronic Devices are Killing our Sleep
It has been reported that 95% of Americans use some sort of electronic device before going to bed. This can be in the form of their iPad or other eTablet, texting, or sending and reading email with their smart phones. It can sometimes simply be watching television in their bedrooms. Ironically, many people even use their phones or tablets in bed as a means of “unwinding” to help themselves fall sleep. As we will see, it does just the opposite.
This pre-bedtime use of electronic devices is an especially common practice among teenagers. During the teen years, 15-17 year olds in particular, the circadian rhythms shifts. This makes this age group more likely to want to keep a late night schedule, and this age group generally tends to be night owls. But when you add in the sleep-depriving effect of these blue light emitting devices, we are creating a whole generation of zombies!
These kids go to school sleep deprived. They ply themselves with high caffeine drinks and still fall asleep in their early morning classes. They suffer the consequences not only in the form of bad grades, but also in health issues, some of which are serious.
Blue Light Causing Hormone Disruption
What all these devices have in common is the short-wave length, or blue light, that they emit. This nighttime light exposure can be extremely harmful to our health in a myriad of ways. One major concern is its interference with our body’s ability to produce melatonin, a natural sleep inducing hormone. Melatonin helps regulate our waking and sleeping cycles.
The adverse effects of the suppression of melatonin due to this electronic blue light include a greater risk of cancer and heart disease, a poorly functioning immune system, and vulnerability to metabolic dysfunctions that can cause such disorders as Type 2 diabetes. It also can be a major contributor to obesity.
So if you are someone who unwinds at night by reading an eBook on your backlit tablet or playing a few games of Solitaire or Boggle, you might want to rethink your bedtime habits. They are depriving you of sleep and setting you up for a long list of possible adverse side effects. Some of them are even life threatening!
Simple Steps to Correct the Blue Light Problem
If you can’t give up those nighttime habits, you might want to try getting some amber-lensed goggles. The lenses are blue-blockers that reduce the effect of the blue light on the body’s melatonin production. Another possible solution is an app known as F.lux. It warms the colors on your screen at sunset and brightens them again when the sun comes. By using that type of app, you are using a more natural light on your screen and that type of light won’t adversely affect the body’s melatonin production.
The age of technology is here to stay, but it doesn’t have to ruin your sleep patterns or your health. We need to be aware – and to make our young people aware – of the effects our electronic devices are having on our general health and especially on our sleep patterns.
There are things we can do to combat the threat blue light poses to our health. We can change our viewing habits; stop using these devices several hours before bedtime; purchase a program to adjust our device’s lighting; or obtain special goggles to screen out the harmful blue rays. If you suffer from insomnia, your first step is to discuss this issue with your doctor to be sure there aren’t other causes you should be aware of. Then put together a plan to remove blue light from your surroundings in the few hours prior to your bedtime.