by: Grace Olson
(Natural News) One in three Americans have trouble sleeping, but a recent study has revealed that avoiding one habit can help improve it. European researchers found that avoiding the use of gadgets, like phones, tablets, and computers, is key to getting better sleep.
Previous research has shown that exposure to blue light – the kind of light found in gadgets – has negative effects on sleeping patterns. The recent study, which was a collaboration between researchers from the Netherlands Institute of Neuroscience, the Amsterdam University Medical Center, and the Dutch International Institute for Public Health and the Environment, was a randomized controlled trial involving Dutch adolescents aged 12 to 17. The researchers studied the participants’ screen time use, aiming to find out how adjusting blue light exposure may affect sleep.
There were two groups of participants: frequent users (with fours hours of average screen time use) and infrequent users (who only look at phones for an hour or less). The participants reported the effects on their sleep when they did the following before bed: used their phones as usual; wore light-blocking glasses; and refrained from using their phones at all.
After five weeks, researchers found that using light-blocking glasses and refraining from using phones altogether resulted in the participants sleeping 20 minutes earlier than usual. Moreover, the participants reported positive results after just one week. There was a reduction in symptoms of sleep loss and better sleep quality overall.
The researchers presented their findings at the annual European Society of Endocrinology meeting, ECE 2019, in Lyon, France. They hope to conduct studies on adult participants as well and see if their findings could apply to them as well.
Blue light keeps people awake at night
All artificial lights interrupt sleep patterns. These include the lights from fluorescent bulbs and electronics. This is because the body’s biological clock is affected by the amount of light it is exposed to.
The body clock, or the circadian rhythm, controls the timing of various physiological processes. For example, as a person wakes up, his/her body starts to release cortisol, a stimulant meant to prepare the body for the day ahead. When it is time for the body to rest, the brain signals the release of melatonin, which makes a person feel sleepy.
However, the body clock is affected by two environmental factors: exposure to light and a person’s eating patterns. When a person uses his/her gadgets, the light from the screen confuses the body’s circadian rhythm.
This is especially the case for blue light. According to Harvard Medical School, exposure to blue light increases reaction times, boosts mood, and sharpens attention. Moreover, compared to other kinds of light, it suppresses the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. This is the kind of light emitted by phones, laptops, and other gadgets, which people use all day.
Thus, using phones and other gadgets right before bedtime can prevent a person from getting a good sleep. Considering how common it is for people to check their social media or play games in bed before sleeping, this is a significant problem.
The symptoms of sleep loss start with minor effects on daily life, like feeling tired or poorer concentration. That alone is enough to affect a person’s performance in school or at work.
However, continuous lack of sleep can result in more serious conditions. To make up for the lack of rest, the body begins to crave more energy in the form of high-calorie foods. Consumption of such foods can lead to obesity, cardiovascular disease, and Type 2 diabetes. (Related: Sleep deprivation may cause weight gain.)
Considering the severity of these outcomes, refraining from using mobile phones and other electronic gadgets before bed is a small price to pay for better health.