Reduce Screen Time At Night For Better Health

Reduce screentime at night for better quality sleep.

Reduce screentime at night for better quality sleep.

We’re living in a digital age where everything is connected, every-thing and every-one is always “on.”  There’s no rest until you go to bed, however, the “always-on” of your phone or laptop is keeping your brain flipped in the “always on” mode.  Does this scenario sound familiar to you?

  • Turn off the lights to go to bed and, while you’re laying there, you reflect back on the day
  • You’re stressed about something or maybe just need a quick fix of mindless entertainment to de-stress
  • Check your phone to reduce that stress
  • Keep thinking about it and toss and turn, maybe get a little bored from not falling asleep, and check your phone again
  • Eventually get to sleep
  • You wake up at the usual time, a little groggy, and a little fuzzy…

What if you could be more rested, get to sleep better, and feel better throughout the day by just putting down the phone a little bit earlier?  What if you could achieve long term health goals by doing the same thing?

The Costs Of Screentime

It turns out that new research continues to confirm that blue light from screens, TV’s, and phones is hurting us more than we know.  According to the Harvard Health Letter, not only does blue light at night throw off our circadian rhythm, affecting our sleep, but can also be linked to causal factors for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.  Wow, that’s pretty astounding isn’t it?

Ever since the early 80’s, researchers have known that our connection to natural lighting helps to keep our “internal clocks” aligned with the environment around us.  In fact, studies have shown that if we throw off our circadian rhythm, by working night shift for example, we have a higher likelihood of developing several types of cancer and other health problems.

Sleep researchers have also noted that exposure to certain types and amounts of light at night can lead to less sleep and higher levels of depression.  Blue light exposure during the evening time in particular leads to a higher level of suppression of the brain chemical melatonin, which helps with shutting down the body and brain for sleep.  According to the Scientific American, researchers have also found that exposure to blue light just before bedtime leads to less quality sleep in terms of time spent in REM.  Additionally, when people are exposed to blue light, they take longer to wake up and are sleepier in the morning time when they’re supposed to be more alert.

The latest research by Dr. Dan Seigel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, says that looking at your phone before bedtime sends “WAKE UP!” messages to our brain.  The blue light also tells our brains, “By the way, turn off the sleep-inducing melatonin ASAP, because we’ve got work to do!!”

The upshot is that our active neurons can’t get the rest that they need and the ‘glial’ cells, which are responsible for cleaning out the neuro-toxins that naturally build up throughout the day, can’t do their job.  If that waste isn’t filtered out and eliminated, several neurological and even physiological drawbacks occur: your ability to focus and think critically is lessened, memory is impaired, and your natural insulin cycle is disturbed.  As a result, you’re up more, you eat more, and your body gains weight because insulin is already active, trying to convert that food into energy that you can use.

What To Do?

  • Look for red lights to read at night versus using CFL’s.  Don’t want to bother with getting more lamps and light bulbs?  How about reading by candlelight?  Sounds romantic, fun, and who doesn’t like candles?
  • Get in a habit of turning off your phone at night.  Alternatively, many phones now have a nighttime setting where you can dim the amount of blue light that is given off while using the device.  Reading settings for your phone or device that switch the page background to dark and the text to white can also help.
  • Read a book or magazine instead of your computer screen or phone.  Try not to look at any bright screens 2-3 hours prior to bedtime.  If 2-3 hours is too much time, start small and work up to it.  Why not try 30 minutes prior to bed one week?  After that, bump up to 45 minutes and then 60 minutes.  Over the course of the month, see how you feel when you wake up.  Just the positive feelings that you get from being well-rested may make it worth your efforts of cutting back on blue light.
  • F.Lux is a free download that reduces the amount of blue light that is given off by your computer screen.  The program adjusts the color of your computer’s display based on the time of day to mimic sunlight during the day and warm light during the nighttime.  Why not try it?
  • As a rule of thumb for mental health, it’s also important to go to bed and wake up around the same time everyday.
  • Find ways to reduce stress during the evening time.  Drinking a warm glass of milk or tea can help.  Do some restful yoga poses or take a hot shower.  It can be helpful to say, “Do these things” to reduce stress and make progress towards your optimal state of health rather than just saying, “don’t do this.”
  • If you do utilize screentime on a regular basis prior to bedtime or if you work the night shift, consider getting blue-light blocking glasses (about $80).

Getting to your optimal state of health could be one of the most important decisions that you make in life.  It affects our happiness, productivity, relationships, and your finances.  Even if you have to spend time and money to get there, in the long run, being healthy is the best insurance plan that you can afford.  If mental health is part of that process, whether it’s depression, anxiety, stress, PTSD, ADD/ADHD, we want you to know that we’re here for you and we want to be the champions on your team to make you feel successful.  Looking for more information about what PTI can do for you?  Give us a call today, we’re always standing by and ready to do everything we can to give you our very best.