We are a sleep-deprived nation and it looks like our technology is partly to blame. According to a national survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, 60% of people between the ages of 13 and 64 experience some kind of sleep problem every night, like snoring, feeling tired in the morning and waking up in the middle of the night (do screaming toddlers at 2AM count?). Experts suggest that the culprit, in many cases, is the pesky artificial light from the technology we’re using before bedtime.
According to the respondents of this survey, 95% use some kind of electronic device in the hour before going to bed whether it’s TV, cell phone, gaming unit or laptop. "Artificial light exposure between dusk and the time we go to bed at night suppresses release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, enhances alertness and shifts circadian rhythms to a later hour—making it more difficult to fall asleep.” said Charles Czeisler, PhD, MD, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital, in a statement.
Even though all these devices emit artificial light, Michael Gardisar, PhD, Flinders University in Australia has found that “passively received” technology such as watching TV and listening to music affect the brain differently than that of “interactive” technology, such as video games, phones and surfing the Internet. He states, “The hypothesis is that the latter devices are more alerting and disrupt the sleep-onset process. If you feel that these activities are alerting or causing you anxiety, try doing something more ‘passive' to help you wind down before bed."
And our kids are being affected, too. Generation Z’ers (13-18 years old) are reported to be the sleepiest bunch, getting nearly two hours less sleep than the recommended 9 hours and 15 minutes for this age range. According to this study, Generation Z’ers are twice as likely as Generation X’ers (30-45 years old) to play a video game in the last hour before sleep, and more than half (56%) report sending, reading and receiving texts messages every night in the last hour of wakefulness. One-fifth of this age group also reported being awakened by a phone call, text message or email in the middle of the night.
Lauren Hale, PhD, Stony Brook University Medical Center says, "The higher use of these potentially more sleep-disruptive technologies among younger generations may have serious consequences for physical health, cognitive development and other measures of wellbeing."
There are things we can we do to foster better sleep patterns for ourselves and our kids. In addition to the typical sleep suggestions like going to bed at the same time every night, exercising regularly and avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, the National Sleep Foundation also offers helpful suggestions like keeping a “worry book” next to the bed to jot down any anxiety-producing thoughts, avoiding naps past 3:00 p.m. and removing distractions from the bedroom. In addition, setting limits on screen time for our kids and imposing technology curfews can help mitigate the effects that these devices are having on their precious sleep.
Does anyone really need to go to bed with a Blackberry?
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