Our smart phones have become our constant companions, so much so that many people don’t even realize how often they are checking them or how disruptive they are to important parts of life like sleep. Most of us take our phones with us to bed, using those last few minutes before we fall asleep to send a couple emails, check Facebook, or read the news. While this practice may seem harmless, a new report indicates that it may actually be hazardous to your health.
The problem with using our smart phones in bed is the artificial blue light emitted by the screen. Previous research has shown that this kind of light, which is also emitted by televisions and computer screens, can disrupt the natural sleep cycle. To understand why, we need to look at what happens when it is time to go to sleep.
The human body uses a hormone called melatonin to signal that it is time to go to sleep. The release of melatonin is triggered by the decrease in light that happens when the sun goes down. As it gets darker, melatonin is released and sleep onset begins. This is where the blue light from your smart phone screen can cause problems.
The blue light is interpreted by the brain as sunlight which stops the release of melatonin, signaling the body that is it time to wake up. This is why checking your email at 11 PM can be hazardous to your health according to the report from GigaOm.
When the sleep cycle is disrupted, we cannot get the sleep we need for good health. Lack of sleep over the long term has been linked to everything from obesity and diabetes to heart disease and certain types of cancer. But the disruption of melatonin and its impact on the sleep cycle isn’t the only problem associated with blue light exposure cited in the GigaOm report.
Melatonin does more than just tell the body when to sleep and when to get up. It also interacts with the immune system and impacts your mood. Although the exact mechanisms for these interactions are not clear, research has shown that having low levels of melatonin increases the risk for certain kinds of cancer and depression. Additionally, exposure to blue light on its own is believed to have an effect on mood.
According to the report, optometrists have noticed an increase that young people are coming in with retinal stress that is usually only seen in much older people. This kind of problem can lead to macular degeneration which can cause blindness. The report implies that the higher levels are a result of increase blue light exposure.
The lesson here is to stick to the one of the key rules of a good sleep hygiene routine. Keep the bedroom for sleep and leave all electronics at the door!
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