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The Secrets of Sleep, Part 3: How Screen Time Affects Our Zzzs

POSTED BY: Florida Hospital

It seems that every day we learn a little more about the devices we spend so much time using. From smartphones to tablets to laptops, we spend hours each day bathed in technology's blue light. But how does all that screen time affect our brains - and our ability to sleep at night?

More and more research is revealing what doctors have long suspected: screens can seriously interrupt our zzzs. 

As you react to incoming emails, scroll through Instagram, play games or watch videos, your brain activates with racing neurons and increased production of cortisol - a stress hormone that creates a result very similar to anxiety.

This may not be that big of a deal during the daytime, but at night it can send major mixed signals to your brain.

An important element of our body's natural sleep-wake cycle (also known as circadian rhythm) is the production of melatonin, a hormone that causes us to fall asleep. Exposure to bright light from our devices at bedtime throws off that internal clock, suppressing melatonin and thus keeping us awake.

The type of light our devices emit plays a major role. Short wavelength enriched light, commonly called "blue light," affects melatonin production more than any other light, including harsh fluorescent and LED lights.

Research warning against bedtime screen usage is piling up faster than a teenager's text messages. In a 2015 study, device usage before bed was linked to a 13-52% spike in the likelihood of needing over 60 minutes to fall asleep. Dozens of others have found strong associations between screen time and both later bedtimes and less restful sleep.

As bleary-eyed as blue light can make adults, its effects may be even worse in young people. For teens, whose circadian rhythms are undergoing natural shifts as they mature, blue light before bed makes things even more confusing for the body.

The RX: put down those screens at least an hour before bed to properly prepare your brain for sleep.

If you'd like to receive more information from the Florida Hospital Center for Sleep Disorders visit our website or call us today at (404) 303-1558.