You may know that it isn’t a good idea to watch TV before bed. But unless you know why that is a good recommendation, you may not realize that the other things you are doing in bed may be impacting how you sleep. While you may think that watching TV in bed keeps your brain active thereby making it harder to fall asleep, it is more likely that the light emanating from the TV is what is keeping you up. In fact, research has shown that the bluish-light emitted by televisions and other electronic gadgets can interfere with the natural mechanisms that help us fall asleep. To understand why the key to a good night sleep may be getting all those gizmos out of the bedroom, let’s look at what happens when it is time to sleep.
The normal pattern of being awake during the day and sleeping at night is part of our body’s natural cycle. One of the key things that regulates this cycle is exposure to light and to darkness. If you think back before the invention of electricity and electric light, it is easy to see how this cycle works. In the morning, the sun comes up, exposing our bodies to light. This is the signal that tells our body that it is time to wake up. When our eyes detect the light, it sends a signal to our brain that kicks off some chemical reactions resulting in us waking up. The same thing happens when the sun goes down. Our eyes detect the decreased exposure to light which alerts our brain and kicks off the processes needed to help us fall asleep.
Now, that all worked fine and good when we didn’t have televisions, iPads, tablets, laptops, and smart phones emitting light at all hours of the day. But now these gizmos and gadgets that make life easier and more interesting may also be robbing us of the sleep we need for good health. The research conducting so far seems to point to the release of a crucial sleep hormone called melatonin. Initial results indicate that exposure to artificial light in the right spectrum can halt or impede the release of melatonin. Since melatonin helps get our bodies and brains ready to fall asleep, we can experience delayed sleep onset and insomnia if it isn’t released at the right time or in the right amount. In essence, our gadgets may be tricking our brains into believing that it is still daytime and sending out all the wrong messages.
Protecting your sleep is simple, but very difficult for many of us to do.
- Remove any permanent electronic light emitting machines from your bedroom including the television and computer.
- Make the bedroom an electronics free zone. This means all gadgets and gizmos must be left in other rooms of the house. If you or your spouse is on call at night and need to be reachable, forward your mobile phone to your home phone so that you can get the call without having to keep your gadget next to your bed.
- Follow your own rules! Don’t make exceptions, make sleep a priority.