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Does night-time screen-time disrupt our normal rhythms?

Cell phones and computers have taken over our lives, without a doubt. Every part of our life is connected to those little devices- our calendars, news, shopping and communicating with friends. It’s to the point where it’s hard to imagine living without these electronic lifelines! They help bring us organization and information, but there are also some downsides, particularly to our health.

A recent study evaluated the health effects of the light emitted from electronic devices. Nighttime artificial light has been a cause for concern for several decades, and researchers have been focused on identifying the specific detrimental effects it may be causing to our health. The type of light that handheld devices emit is known as short-wavelength light and is known to disrupt sleep patterns. This study tested different scenarios of light exposure. The first scenario tested people having one night with no light exposure, then tested one night with 2 hours of exposure, and lastly, they measured the chronic effects of five consecutive nights with 2 hours of exposure each night. For each testing scenario, they checked the participants’ melatonin levels, oral body temperature, and general mood for the next morning.

They found that in both of the scenarios where participants were exposed to digital light, it reduced the amount of sleep at night, caused daytime sleepiness, and led to overall bad moods, as compared to the night without light exposure. Artificial light also disrupted people’s body temperature (which normally declines as we go to sleep) and it diminished melatonin secretion.

This study helps us realize that even one night of excess artificial light can negatively impact our sleep cycle and mood the next day. Other studies support these findings, reporting similar effects from artificial light exposure, such as decreased melatonin secretion, abnormal body temperature regulation, insomnia and other sleep problems.

It may be tempting to turn to prescription medications when experiencing sleepless nights for extended periods, just to find some relief. But if you are having difficulty maintaining a normal sleep schedule and experiencing daytime sleepiness, it might be helpful to first experiment with turning off all screens, at least a couple hours before bedtime to see if that improves the situation. Another study showed that taking a one hour morning walk (especially outside) can really help to re-establish a normal cycle. It can be hard to break from the routine of surfing the internet and watching tv before bed, but with a little practice, you may be able to resume a healthy sleep cycle and start feeling great again!

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