A quick prediction: tonight, you will get into your PJs, shut off the bedroom light, snuggle beneath the blankets, and pull out your phone just one more time for the day so you can see what your friends have been up to, check up on the news, or just scroll through your feed and laugh at something funny. Eerily accurate (or at least pretty close), right?
No crystal ball needed! Chances are, if it’s not your phone, it’s a tablet, or a television, or maybe even an e-reader; an overwhelming majority of people today, of all ages, just love to see a screen before sleep. Just like electric lighting and the alarm clock, our entertainment and communication devices provide us with much-needed innovation and increased adaptability, while, at the same time, creating another barrier between us and getting our best sleep.
Yes, we’re sure you’ve heard it before: screens are no good for sleep. But, we’d like to tell you exactly why, and we also want to let you know some changes you can start making tonight that will improve your sleep.
Keeping you blue
Melatonin is a hormone produced by our pineal gland, which is located just above the middle of our brain. Upon nightfall, the pineal gland begins actively producing melatonin, which is the signal that lets your body know to begin the sleep process. It’s at this point that you begin to feel less alert and a little drowsy, as sleep is beckoning. When daylight returns, melatonin levels are diminished, lending melatonin its nickname “the vampire hormone”.
Blue LED lights, found in most of our favorite screens, emit the same type of light as daylight, causing cutbacks in the production of melatonin—no matter what time of day it is. Melatonin is essentially your body’s hand-delivered invitation to get some shut-eye, and spending time in front of screens before bed means sending your regrets. Without a build-up in melatonin, you’ll remain too alert to drift easily into sleep.
Under the influence
While the blue light hits us at a physiological level, the content of our screens hits us at a mental level. You might lay in bed to relax and scroll through Facebook at ten p.m., and find that you’re not actually shutting down until eleven-thirty or midnight, because your active brain is pushing you to reload the feed one more time, to just check one more post.
As we get ready for bed, it’s ideal to turn off our screens and go through a sort of mental deceleration as your brain waves go from erratic stimulation to the soothing waves of sleep. Whether it’s doing some relaxing yoga or just reading a chapter from a good ol’ paper book, establishing a habit of calm, screen-free activity before bed will help your body ease more readily into sleep.
Where to start
When we look at screens so close to bed, it revs up the engines on our brains instead of downshifting them—pushing us away from sleep in a double whammy of light and stimulation. Ideally, after learning this, you’re going to keep all screens out of your bedroom….right?
No matter how hard you try (OK, so maybe you don’t actually try that hard), you can’t seem to separate screens from your bedroom. What’s a person to do? Start with these gradual adjustments:
Dim and de-blue the lights by turning your phone to night shift.
Enable “Do not disturb” at night.
When you’re settling in for the night, charge your phone away from your bed, to help you resist the temptation.
We never said it was going to be easy—but the thing to remember is that when you set your phone down and take the time to treasure your sleep, you’re cultivating resilient good health that recharges your batteries for the days and decades ahead.