Glow of gadgets at night may hinder sleep


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

Jordan is on to something. Researchers have long known that light suppresses melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep. Nowadays, we're flooded with light long after the sun sets, whether we're texting, emailing or catching up on TV.

"It's a very unnatural thing for us to do, so when we expose ourselves to light at night, we tell the brain that it's daytime," said Harvard University's Dr. Steven Lockley, co-author of "Sleep: A Very Short Introduction."

Light makes it harder to catch some Zs and shift our internal body clock, or circadian rhythm. But there's one kind of light that's more disruptive than others. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) says beware of blue wavelengths, the kind emitted by energy0efficient light bulbs and electronic gadgets.

"We know that blue light has the greatest propensity to alter circadian rhythms, and yet nowadays it seems that blue is the color du jour," said Dr. Nathaniel Watson of the AASM.

In fact, a recent Sleep Foundation poll revealed 95 percent of Americans use electronics a few nights a week, within an hour before bed.

Lockley said 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," Lockley said.

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

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

So what's a gadget addict to do? Have a regular bed time routine and sleep in a cool, dark room. But most importantly, power down early, ideally two to three hours before bed.

"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, so you can turn down the brightness," Watson said.

Jordan cut back on screen time, and she said the results were eye-opening.

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

Exposure to lots of bright light during the day can also help. Lockley said it keeps you alert and helps your body clock reset each night.

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