If you find yourself frequently struggling with exhaustion or sleeplessness, it might be time to take a closer look at your bedtime routine. Individuals who are in the habit of winding down for the night by watching television, scrolling their social media news feed or catching up on emails may be putting themselves at risk of insomnia, stress and anxiety, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
TVs and other screens, including tablets, computers and smartphones, contain blue light, which can contribute to a range of negative health effects. There's also a great deal of evidence supporting the link between poor sleep and screens.
Blue light is the alternative name for blue wavelengths. While blue wavelengths come from natural sources, such as the sun, they are also emitted in high quantities from all types of electronic screens and some forms of energy-efficient lighting. These wavelengths are thought to boost mood and energy levels. So while blue light can actually be beneficial for daytime use, screen time before bed can have the opposite effect.
It's known that the use of blue light during the night time, particularly right before bed, can be detrimental to sleep patterns, as well as stress, anxiety and even vision. Blue light affects your circadian rhythms and essentially tricks your brain into thinking it's daytime when it's really time for bed. It can suppress the production of melatonin, which is the hormone that's responsible for regulating your sleep-wake cycle.
In addition to being bad for sleep, some studies have shown that excessive exposure to blue light during nighttime hours can increase the risk of diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
On top of the negative health effects caused by blue light exposure at night, spending the final hours before bedtime in front of a screen is known to overstimulate the brain, particularly in young people.
Watching TV or engaging with social media and other activities online can be extremely stimulating for the brain. These activities increase the output of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter connected to the brain's pleasure center.
As dopamine is released, your brain essentially tells your body to continue doing more of whatever activity it's doing, whether that's watching TV, scrolling social media feeds or catching up on work emails. Additionally, your brain can become addicted to whatever you're doing when dopamine levels increase, which can be both mentally and physically harmful.
The use of social media, in general, can lead to stress, depression and anxiety for many individuals. While spending the final hours of your day reading and engaging in posts from friends and family can seem like a good way to maintain relationships with the ones you love, it can actually hurt your sleep and your mental health.
In addition to the blue light emitted from your smartphone, computer or tablet, which contributes to decreased melatonin output, some studies have also shown a decrease in serotonin production, which is a hormone that regulates feelings of happiness and well-being.
Of course, stress, depression and anxiety are feelings we don't necessarily want to invoke at any time of the day. However, the feelings you experience in the final moments before falling asleep tend to stay with you throughout the night and may directly correlate to the quality and duration of your sleep.
There are several warning signs to watch for if you think screens are negatively affecting the quality of your sleep:
Old habits die hard, and this is true for just about everything, including winding down with screens at the end of the day. The average person needs to spend 66 consecutive days in a new routine before old habits are broken, according to a 2009 study published by the European Journal of Social Psychology. Of course, that begs the question: What activities should you be engaging in at the end of the day to promote healthy sleep? The answer to that depends on where your interests lie and what you find relaxing. Some of the most common suggestions include:
If you're struggling with sleep or finding yourself having a hard time winding down at night without screens, consider introducing some of the activities listed above to your bedtime routine, or come up with some of your own ideas to wind down at night without screen time. The less time you spend watching TV or using technology before bed, the better you may feel in the morning.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.