Matt Gratton, University of Kansas/Children’s Mercy Hospital
Aside from temperature, light is the main trigger our bodies use to regulate sleep and wakefulness. When there is little light, our body releases the hormone melatonin. This hormone tells the body that it is time to go to sleep.
Although the sun is the main source of bright light in our lives, it is not the only source. Electronic screens, which emit blue light, are another constant source. Exposure to blue light before bedtime can trick our bodies into slowing the release of melatonin.
This light source is also accompanied by stimulating activities on the screen. Scrolling through social media, completing work tasks, and watching catchy TV shows are all too entertaining for our brains to put down. Blue light and using the internet before going to bed can negatively affect sleep. It can disrupt the body’s normal rhythms, interfere with sleep and affect overall health.
How Using Screens Before Bedtime Affects Sleep
Exposure to blue light at night can disrupt your circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is a natural process that is part of the body’s internal clock. It is the cycle of physical, mental and behavioral changes that the body goes through every 24 hours. This process repeats every day and creates a healthy loop when not disturbed.
Excessive exposure to blue light before bed can stop a smooth transition from one point in the cycle to the next. You may feel restless after a night’s rest or wake up frequently during the night.
When melatonin production decreases, the body may think it is still daytime while you are trying to sleep. This can make you feel more awake. You may want to look at something on your phone screen until you get tired. This has the opposite effect and only further disrupts sleep.
Preventing the negative effects of blue light on sleep
- Lights out at sunset. Turn off all bright lights at least an hour before bedtime. Dim light does not hinder the production of melatonin.
- Stop scrolling. If possible, avoid using screens 30 minutes before bedtime. Even phone screens emit enough blue light to affect melatonin production. Try turning down your screen brightness or use a dimmed light to read a book or printout instead of scrolling on your phone.
- Wind down. If possible, do a 30-60 minute relaxation routine before going to bed. While you are relaxing, it is best to engage in relaxing activities such as nighttime hygiene, reading, or stretching. Try doing these outside the bedroom so your brain associates your bed with sleeping only.
- Block distractions. Keep your sleeping space free from excessive noise and light. Blackout curtains, sleep masks or white noise generators can be effective tools.
- wake up time. Pick a consistent wake time and stick to it. Wake up with enough time to have a full day and be ready for bed. This helps boost your circadian rhythm and creates other sleep triggers for your body.
- night lights. Sleeping with bright lights on can also disrupt natural sleep cycles. Try using a dim night light or red light instead. These can help keep you sleepy and ready to sleep.
- Provide bright light during the day. Expose yourself to bright light early and often during the day. Spend as much time outdoors as possible. This promotes wakefulness during the day and sleepiness at night.
Exposure to blue light before bed can have a disruptive effect on sleep. This can lead to poor sleep and sleepiness during the day. By following these steps and avoiding screens before bed, you can create better sleep habits. Improving sleep can help your mood, your health, and your ability to think clearly.
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