Sleep & Technology: How is it Effecting your Sleep?

In this next series of articles, we will be discussing some of the key factors that are affecting your sleep quality. My goal is to highlight factors that you may not be aware of and discuss their importance. This will then be followed by giving you actionable strategies to correct them and overall aim to improve the quality and maybe the quantity of sleep you are getting.

In this article we will be focusing on technology (phones, laptops, ipads- basically anything with a screen) and how it is affecting your sleep and offer you strategies to combat the screen time effects.

Now in the ‘good old days’ prior to the use of artificial lighting, the sun was the major source of lighting. So people would spend their evenings in (relative) darkness. Today, our modern electronic devices, and appliances have seamlessly integrated into our daily and night-time lives. Many of us will happily state that we are reliant on these devices, so much so that they are always with us, even when we sleep. Now across the world our evenings are artificially illuminated, the benefit is that it offers us the ability to dictate our own sleep cycles and the negative is that we neglect our primal circadian rhythms. With limitless light we often now find ourselves working long into the night/morning to meet a deadlines or we just get hooked on the new Netflix series.

Children in the United States are spending more than 53 hours/ week on technological devices! Often in this time frame they are using multiple devices at one time! The research that is investigating the effect of technology and sleep has indicated that this prolonged screen time could be one of the most significant factors in the increasing number of sleep problems, particularly the delayed sleep phase within the youth population.

 

Problem 1:

When it comes to light, blue light is key culprate for keeping you wide awake at night. Blue light suppresses your melatonin production (sleep hormone). Blue light has been shown to be great in heightening reaction time and alertness as it stimulates your mitochondria (cellular powerhouses). However, research has also suggested that it can cause cell dysfunction and this may contribute to cellular aging, age-related pathologies, and tumorigenesis.

Newer artificial lights lack many of the sun’s frequencies that our bodies and brains need. Artificial lights, have eliminated most of the infrared, red, and violet light found in natural sunlight, and are amplifying the blue light beyond anything we have evolved to handle. Most LEDs and compact fluorescents emit about 5 times the blue light we are used to. This is due to the fact that this form of  lighting being considered easy for the human eyes to see and it is extremely efficient in comparison to warmer lighting.

Interesly it was recently shown that there is a gender difference in light sensitivity. Men are more responsive and effected by the blue-enriched light in the late evenings, even with very low light levels (40 lux) compared to females. Therefore, it would appear that females are not impacted as seriously as males.  So men should be especially aware of this! However this research is still in the early days, but something to consider nonetheless.

 

Problem 2:

The great majority of the population today are attached to their devices, in particular mobile devices. We are never far from them even when sleeping. Harmless right? Sadly this is not the case, as it can cause sleep deprivation, depression and even emit radiation.

 

How?

Beyond the effects of blue light, our devices emit EMFs (Electromagnetic Fields), wireless energy waves that surround electronic devices. Specifically, these are artificial EMFs since they’re created by human technology. According to the World Health Organisation, EMFs have an effect on us since our bodies have their own electric and biochemical responses so much so they categorised as radiofrequency electromagnetic fields that are carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B).

EMFs present even more potential harm to our youth as they poses thinner skulls, allowing for greater penetration of cell phone radiation, enabling it to get as deep as their midbrain where tumors are more fatal. Plus children during growth have quick cell reproduction which means they are more receptive to progressive cell growth, good or bad. Beyond this children will be faced with greater longer term exposure as most adults over 50 years lived in a time without cell phones and/or were not exposed to them as children. To put in perspective a Swedish study concluded individuals who started using mobiles as teenagers, and have done so for at least 10 years, were 4.9 times more likely to develop astrocytoma (a form of cancer in the brain), compared to controls (people who had not been as readily exposed to mobile phones in their youth).

 

Problem 3:

I would be remiss if I did not state the potential effects that technology has to promote your pleasure and stress sensors. With our 24/7 world we can not escape stressful emails and messages that can bombard us just as we are set to down regulate and go to sleep. Even with blocking blue light an action packed Netflix series or movie can over stimulate your system preventing you from falling asleep. All of these factors can play a significant role in up-regulating your stress hormone cortisol which has an adverse relationship with the sleep hormone melatonin. This means melatonin is getting down regulated (reduced), leaving your body wired and unable to sleep.

 

Strategies/ Solutions:

I am not saying that you have to go full primal on me and use no technology and rise and fall with daylight. I am just suggesting we approach our sleep with great importance, prioritising it over technology and use our technology intelligently. Remember even if you don’t think these things are affecting you as you fall asleep, remember falling asleep doesn’t necessarily mean good quality sleep

 

Potential Strategies:

  • Create a evening/night-time routine
  • Apply Bluelight filters to all technology from sundown, most smartphones have this ability or download an app like F.Lux (I personal leave on 24/7)
  • Wear blueblocking glasses in evening especially when on devices (these have orange lenses)
  • Remove all technology one hour before bed, Instead: Read a physical book (non stimulating), do some low level mobility, talk to a loved one or mediate
  • Remove all devices or turn them on to airplane mode while sleeping and place them as far away from you as possible.
  • Cover any lights within the room eg Charging LED lights or TV etc.
  • Purchase a EMT monitoring devices so check levels within your room and house, you may be surprised the amount your devices are emitting.

References:

Health, N. I. of. (1979). Click in any of these pages to return to EMF and other environmental topics. National Institute of Health, (3), 5–8.

Hardell, L., & Carlberg, M. (2009). Mobile phones , cordless phones and the risk for brain tumours. International Journal of Oncology, 5–17. https://doi.org/10.3892/ijo

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2002). Electric and Magnetic Fields Associated with the Use of Electric Power. National Institutes of Health, (June). Retrieved from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/electric_and_magnetic_fields_associated_with_the_use_of_electric_power_questions_and_answers_english_508.pdf

Ziskin, M. C. (2002). Electromagnetic hypersensitivity-a COMAR technical information statement. Engineering in Medicine and Biology Magazine, IEEE (Vol. 21). https://doi.org/10.1109/MEMB.2002.1044194