Blue Light Dilemma: How Our Electronics are Depriving our Families of Sleep & What to Do About It

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In our last blog, we provided some helpful tips for getting a good night’s sleep. One of the tips included keeping the electronics out of the bedroom. This week, we will further explore the impact that the blue lights of today’s electronic gadgets have on the sleep of children, teens and adults. We think you will find the latest research very “eye-opening”, and might reconsider the use of devices before bedtime!

The Challenge
What if someone approached you today and told you that, starting tomorrow, you would be required to sleep only during day light hours? If you are not a third shift worker, you might start thinking to yourself “I cannot get a full night’s sleep during the day time! I can only get a nap in during the day! How am I possibly going to sleep for the night when the sun is still up?” You might look into light blocking blinds for your windows, earplugs to block out the daytime traffic and noises in the neighborhood, and other techniques to “trick” your mind into thinking that it is night time. Unfortunately, many of us do the exact opposite when we are preparing for bedtime! Instead of allowing the natural darkness to mentally prepare us for rest, we are actually tricking our brains into thinking that it is daytime! How and why are we doing this to ourselves?

The Electronic Allure
Our electronics are a source of social connection and communication with the outside world. We use them for entertainment, to play games, to catch up on the latest news, and to talk to friends and family. There is certainly a time and a place for all of our electronics and portable devices, but use of any light emitting device less than an hour or two before bedtime can significantly interfere with our sleep.

The Effect of Light on our Brains
Our brain depends on light and darkness to help us wake up in the morning and to ease us into sleep at night. Our bodies depend on photoreceptors in the retina to send signals to our brain, which, in turn, sets our circadian rhythm and triggers the release of the hormone melatonin into the system. When we watch television, look at our I-pads, cell phones, laptops, Kindle readers, and any other devices that emit light less than an hour or two before bed, we interrupt this process. The blue light from these devices actually prevents the release of Melatonin into our systems and can delay our circadian rhythms by as much as an hour and a half!

The Added Consequences for Young People
Further, when children enter adolescence, their circadian rhythms change, making them naturally feel more awake at night. Adding the distraction of blue light from devices before bedtime only adds to this developmental predicament. Studies have also shown that teens are more sensitive than adults to blue light from devices. Teens will have an interruption in their circadian rhythms with 1/10 the amount of light that affects adults’ sleep patterns! Other studies have found that teens that text for 30 minutes or more before bedtime have lower grades and report feeling more tired throughout the school day.

The Stress Effects Beyond the Blue Light
Spending time on devices affects our minds and bodies beyond the blue light too. We often use our devices to engage in emotional social interactions, play challenging games, read intense news stories, or work on important projects. These mental activities keep our mind alert and active rather than restful and quiet. Our brain responds by releasing stress hormones in the body which further interfere with sleep.  While these activities may be considered recreational, they are not physiologically relaxing.

So How Can We Get a Better Night’s Sleep?

• Turn off all devices at least one hour prior to bedtime.
• Do not watch television in the bedroom.
• Do not keep your cell phone near your bed at night. If you use your cell phone for an alarm, consider buying a good old fashioned alarm clock from the store.
• Read paper books before bed instead of your e-reader.
• If you need “noise’ to fall asleep in the bedroom, consider using a white noise machine or relaxing audio CDs and recordings.
• Consider installing a free app (such as F.lux) on your devices to manage the type of light your device emits. This app will automatically warm the colors on your devices to reds and yellows at dusk, then will return to the normal blue light at sunrise. However, you will still need to follow the other tips to get a good nights sleep since the impact of device use extends beyond the color of the light.
• Make it a family affair and have all portable electronics “park” for the night in a non-bedroom location. Have a talk with your child/teen and decide together on the best place to store the family’s electronics.
• Get enough natural light during the day to maintain your natural circadian rhythm.

If you’ve been trying these strategies and sleep still remains a struggle, consider seeking professional help from a physician or therapist to explore if other factors are affecting your sleep.  Getting quality sleep is key to good physical and emotional wellness. Make it a priority.

HAPPY SLEEPING!!!

Written by Heidi Kloss, Ph.D. for the Linden Blog. If you are interested in receiving Linden Blog updates with original articles about parenting, families, mental health, and wellness, subscribe using the field below. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment at Linden BP call 440/250-9880.

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