Why unplugging at the end of the day is best thing you can do for your sleep health
We get it. Unplugging at the end of the day is hard. Between smartphones and tablets, email, Facebook and texting, our digital chores never seem to end. We’re in constant contact with others and there’s always one more thing to attend to before shutting down. While all this communication has improved our lives in a multitude of ways, connectivity has its place. And that place is not your bedroom.
The message is simple. If you’re serious about getting a good night’s sleep, power down your electronics and leave them outside your bedroom.
The science of light & sleep
Let’s talk about the science of light and how it can promote wakefulness – or lull your brain into a state of relaxation. Photoreceptors in your retina sense light and dark, sending signals to your brain about the status of the outside world and aligning your circadian rhythms to the external day-night cycle. Studies have shown that even our smallest electronic devices emit sufficient light to miscue the brain and promote wakefulness. What does this mean? Before we even shut our eyes, our quality of sleep is already compromised because our brain thinks maybe we should be awake instead. Talk about a conflict of interest.
And the light that’s so disruptive? You can thank blue wavelengths, which are beneficial during daylight hours because they boost attention, reaction times and mood. But at night, blue light is disruptive to sleep. Most electronic screens employ these blue wavelengths, as do a lot of our energy-efficient lighting choices. The light causes a delay in the natural release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Melatonin controls your sleep and wake cycles allowing you to fall asleep, stay asleep and then rise in the morning. Delaying the production of melatonin will prolong the journey in reaching the ultimate destination – sleep.
When the sun goes down, it’s time to reduce our exposure so our brains can begin winding down for the night.
While light of any kind can suppress the secretion of melatonin, blue light does it much more powerfully. Harvard researchers conducted an experiment comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light to exposure of green light with comparable brightness. The blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours). So if your last minute tweets and Facebook updates happen right before bed, you’re setting your brain up for a restless night.
Ready to make your bedroom an electronic-free space?
According to research, more than 85% of adults have at least one screen in front of them before bedtime, which means there’s a whole lot of people walking around with disrupted sleep. Disrupted sleep patterns can have negative implications for overall performance in everyday life and cause long-term health issues. The simple truth is that our brains, bodies and sleep cycles are all affected when we bring our electronic devices to bed.
With all this research proving that light, especially light from your smartphone and tablet, disrupts sleep – it just makes sense to unplug and tune out before bed, right?
In order to help prepare your brain and body for bed, we suggest putting your electronics to bed an hour before you plan to sleep. As well, use warm, dim lighting in your bedroom at night to help you adjust and prepare for sleep. Finally, if you must use your smartphone or tablet, consider using night mode, which changes the glow of your screen from blue hues to warmer, red hues. This will help the light generated by your phone or tablet be less stimulating.
Ready to find a new sleep partner? Because the ones we have now – our phones, televisions, and tablets – are robbing us of precious hours of sleep.
Let there be sleep, not light
Consistently throwing off your sleep times can cause what is referred to as “delayed sleep syndrome,” where your body physically can’t fall asleep naturally until a late or delayed bedtime. Don’t worry though – your sleeper’s not broken. It just needs to be re-calibrated. To readjust your natural sleep time, plug into these helpful tips:
- Create a family charging station. To avoid keeping your electronic devices on your nightstand, create a charging station in another room. Even better, if everyone in the family uses the same charging station, you’ll all sleep better.
- Buy an alarm clock. Buy a real alarm clockinstead of using your phone. If you absolutely need to keep your phone somewhere in your room, plug it in across the room, away from your bed. This can also help you to fully wake up in the morning and force you to get up out of bed to turn off the alarm.
- Power off screens. Turn off all your screens, televisions, phones, computers; at least an hour before bed. If you can’t manage a wholesale shutdown, start with 15 to 30 minutes and work yourself up to an hour.
- Bring paper back. Read from a printed book instead of a tablet. An alternative would be to try an app that flips your screen’s background. Instead of black letters on a white background (like you’re reading right now), it will show white letters on a black background, helping to cut down on the emission of light.
- Bedtime routine. Start adjusting your sleep habits to eliminate electronics from your bedtime routine. Try winding down with a bath and a cup of tea and see if that helps you drift off faster.
Rest well & wake up ready to go!
Better sleep gives rise to better mornings, bringing your goals into focus and dreams within reach. Hungry for more sleep info? Dig into these posts:
- Can lack of sleep hurt your brain?
- Can temperature affect how well you sleep?
- 11 reasons why you wake in the middle of the night and what you can do about it