Sleep and Electronics

We live in a technology obsessed world and having electronics seem almost necessary to live our everyday lives. Cell phones are carried with most of us throughout the day. We read on tablets instead of books. We communicate through social media and email. Even children need computers to do homework. Whether it’s a cell phone, tablet, computer, video game, or television, it becomes difficult to turn it off, even at the end of the day. We feel like we’re being more productive if we send just one more email before bed. But using these devices at night may not be as productive as we think, and is most likely costing us sleep.

What is the effect of electronics on sleep?

Sleep loss from using electronic devices before bed happens for a few reasons. First of all, the light coming from the screen of your device interferes with circadian rhythms and melatonin production. The circadian rhythm is the internal clock that controls our biological patterns such as body temperature, blood pressure, and hormone release, and has a lot to do with how we sleep. Circadian rhythm is affected by light, time, and melatonin production. Light and darkness tell us when to feel awake or sleepy. Time affects this cycle because we are clock readers and follow schedules our bodies become adapted to. Melatonin, which is a hormone secreted in the brain by the pineal gland, induces the tired feeling. This hormone helps keep our sleep- wake cycles on track. The light emitted from our devices, even just from a cell phone, passes through the retina of the eye, causing a delay in the release of melatonin making it harder to fall asleep.

Children, digital electronics, and sleep

Children are especially susceptible to this. Many children are now given an electronic device, such as an iPad or television to soothe and relax them before bed, but this is actually doing more harm than good. Children need sufficient sleep for growth, learning, mood, creativity, and weight control. But children who use electronics before bed tend to have later bedtimes, get fewer hours of sleep, and because of this suffer from daytime sleepiness more than children that do not use these devices before bed. This is true for adolescents and teenagers as well, who not only use these devices for entertainment purposes, but also for homework.

Using electronics before bed also stimulates our mind by getting our brains “fired up.” Electrical activity then increases and neurons start to race, making it difficult to sleep.

Hormonal role of digital devices and sleep

Our bodies also respond physically when we use these devices. We become tense and our bodies feel stressed. This stress activates the “fight or flight” response and cortisol is released. Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands, and elevated cortisol levels can interrupt sleep patterns. Levels of cortisol are generally higher in the morning, making us alert for the day. As the day goes on levels diminish, preparing us for sleep at night when levels are low. Cortisol levels stay low through the night and rise again in the morning, keeping the cycle going. This helps us keep our sleeping patterns. However, when you look at your cell phone or check your email before bed your cortisol level increases again, delaying sleep.

These interferences with getting good quality sleep are all avoidable, if you just unplug or turn it off. Even going just 15-30 minutes electronic free before bedtime can make a difference. Make your bedroom completely device-free, including the television. For children, refrain from giving them the iPad or letting them watch their T.V. shows, and have them read a book instead. It may not be easy at first to make this change since we have become so dependent on technology, but you will be happy when you are waking up feeling much more rested.

Author: Kristina Diaz is a Registered Respiratory Therapist and a health and wellness enthusiast and writer.

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