It’s the start of a new school year and the iPhone 5 has just splashed down on the scene. That can only mean one thing: we’re all spending more time staring at screens. But who can blame us? At times you have no choice but to stay up late catching up on current events, and when you’re not doing that, who can resist watching the latest episode of The Tonight Show?
In light of this (pun intended) I think a recent study on self-luminous technology led by Mariana Figueiro of the Lighting Research Center (we’ve seen her before) hits especially close to home. Results show that using glowing devices like tablets and smartphones before bed can lead to muddled circadian rhythms.
How Does It Happen?
The bluish, bright light emitted from the screens of our favorite devices comes in short wavelengths, and prolonged exposure to this can decrease melatonin levels in our bodies. Using a tablet or smartphone for more than two hours at a time can suppress melatonin levels by 22%, according to the study.
Melatonin is the hormone that helps regulate circadian rhythm, produced in the pineal gland at night to help the body fall and remain asleep. Wonky levels can cause insomnia, sleep disruption, and even lead to diabetes and obesity. In the most extreme cases, after years of circadian disruption (as seen in night shift workers), subjects have even been more prone to diseases like breast cancer.
What can we do?
Sometimes it’s not an option to cloister yourself from screens before bed, and often we just don’t think about it. One way to negate this issue without losing too much sleep (pun also intended) is to adjust the brightness of your screens to be less luminous at night or install an app that does it automatically.
In the future we hope to see manufacturers develop more circadian-sensitive products with the ability to change light levels to match natural daylight – bluer and brighter in the morning to wake us up, warmer and softer in the evening to sooth us into slumber.
Now before you step away from your screen, riddle me this: Do you spend a lot of time on a tablet, phone, or computer late at night? How are you sleeping? Who’s on board with the latest iPhone?