Do you read you phone or iPad in bed? Are you reading this blog in bed right now? Well research has focused on how the bright light of such devices can disrupt our natural sleep patters, and possibly have some ongoing health effects. Mark and I talked about this, and some tips to get a good nights sleep on Radio Live this Sunday morning. (Click here to listen to the interview)
There are many reasons why people have sleep problems, and without question some are more susceptible to sleep problems than others. However after a few years of study it is now clear that the bright light from smartphones and tablets causes problems if we engage with them in bed, right before sleep.
Biologically our sleep is mediated by our circadian rhythm, and the hormone melatonin. Our circadian rhythm is the 24 hour cycle of wakefulness and sleep that we all conform to, with some subtle variations. Some studies have even locked people underground, where in the absence of natural light and any external cues as to the time on average people still organize their time in roughly 24 hour chunks.
Melatonin is the hormone of sleep, and it is suppressed by light, which makes sense for much of our evolutionary history the presence of bright light means only one thing: that it’s daytime. It’s why some people take melatonin as a natural sleep aid.
And it’s the levels of this hormone, along with the length and frequency of REM sleep, that researchers have measured as a way to quantify the impact of, for example, playing candy crush in bed. And as if feeling tired isn’t enough chronic sleep deprivation and reduced REM sleep has other negative health consequences…
“Peering at brightly lit screens at night disrupts the body’s natural rhythms and raises the risk of medical conditions linked to poor sleep, including obesity, heart disease, strokes and depression” (Click here for the whole article)
Of course avoiding screens in bed is only one of many things you can do if you struggle with sleep, but is an important step…
“If you don’t want to feel like a zombie during the day, the findings are clear: Read an actual, printed book if you must stimulate your mind before bed, and avoid screens like your life depends on it, because it actually might. ” (Click here for the whole article)
Other helpful strategies are loosely grouped together by what is often called “sleep hygeine”…
- Maintain a regular sleep routine: Go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time and avoid naps if possible
- Don’t stay in bed awake for more than 5-10 minutes: If you find your mind racing, or worrying about not being able to sleep during the middle of the night, get out of bed, and sit in a chair in the dark. No TV or internet during these periods! When you watch TV or read in bed, you associate the bed with wakefulness.
- Do not drink caffeine inappropriately: The effects of caffeine may last for several hours after ingestion. Caffeine can fragment sleep, and cause difficulty initiating sleep. If you drink caffeine, use it only before noon.
- Exercise regularly: Exercise before 2 pm every day. Exercise promotes continuous sleep, however avoid rigorous exercise before bedtime. Rigorous exercise circulates endorphins into the body which may cause difficulty initiating sleep.
- Have a quiet, comfortable bedroom: Set your bedroom thermostat at a comfortable temperature. Generally, a little cooler is better than a little warmer.
- Have a comfortable pre-bedtime routine: A warm bath, shower, Meditation, or quiet time
If you you also want to hear more about how mindfulness in particular can help you get to sleep, then you might also want to listen to this weeks episode of my weekly Podcast “The Confident Mind” which this week is all about sleep.