Matt Gratton, University of Kansas/Children’s Mercy Hospital
Aside from temperature, light is the single most important factor the body uses to regulate sleep and wakefulness. When the light is low, our bodies secrete a hormone called melatonin. This hormone tells the body that it is time to sleep.
While 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 at bedtime can trick our bodies into slowing down the secretion of melatonin.
This light source is also coupled with stimulating activities on the screen. Scrolling through social media, finishing work assignments, and watching fun TV shows are all too entertaining for our brains to put down. Blue light and internet browsing before bed can negatively affect sleep. It can disturb the body’s natural rhythms, interfere with sleep, and affect overall health.
How to use screens before bed sleep effects
Exposure to blue light at night can disrupt your circadian rhythm. 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 undergoes every 24 hours. This process is repeated every day, creating a healthy cycle when not disturbed.
Excessive exposure to blue light before bedtime can disrupt the smooth transition from one point in the cycle to the next. You may find yourself feeling restless after a bad night’s sleep or waking up frequently throughout the night.
When melatonin production is reduced, the body may think it’s still daytime while you’re trying to sleep. This can make you feel more alert. You may find yourself wanting to look at something on your phone screen until you feel tired. This has the opposite effect and only worsens sleep disturbance.
Preventing the negative effects of blue light on sleep
- The lights go out at sunset. Turn off all bright lights at least an hour before bed. Dim light does not hinder melatonin production.
- Stop scrolling. If possible, avoid using screens 30 minutes before bed. Even phone screens emit enough blue light to affect melatonin production. Try lowering your screen brightness or using a dim light to read a book or print instead of scrolling on your phone.
- terminates. Establish a relaxation routine 30-60 minutes before bed, if possible. During the cooling down period, it is best to perform relaxing activities such as night hygiene, reading or stretching exercises. Try to do this outside the bedroom so that your brain associates only sleep.
- Block sources of distraction. Keep your sleeping area free from excessive noise and light. Blackout curtains, sleep masks, or white noise generators can be effective tools.
- springy. Choose a consistent alert time and stick to it. Wake up with enough time to spend the whole day and get ready for bed. This helps establish your circadian rhythm and creates other sleep stimuli for your body.
- night lights. Sleeping with bright light on can also disrupt natural sleep cycles. Instead, try using a dim nightlight or red light. These can help you feel sleepy and get ready for sleep.
- Get bright light during the day. Expose yourself to bright lights early and often during the day. Spend time outdoors whenever possible. This enhances alertness during the day and drowsiness at night.
Exposure to blue light near bedtime can have a devastating effect on sleep. This can lead to poor sleep and drowsiness during the day. Following these steps and avoiding screens before bed can help you form better sleep habits. Improving sleep can help improve your mood, health, and ability to think clearly.
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