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Sleep Smarter - Avoid Screens Before Bedtime

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Sleep Smarter - Avoid Screens Before Bedtime

Author Shawn Stevenson says banish your favourite devices to get better shut-eye
Shawn Stevenson
Shawn Stevenson More by this author
Sep 02, 2016 at 02:45 AM

Cutting out some screen time at night is likely the number one thing you can do to improve your sleep quality immediately. Computers, iPads, televisions, smartphones, etc., kick out a sleep-sucking blue spectrum of light that can give you major sleep problems.


The artificial blue light emitted by electronic screens triggers your body to produce more daytime hormones (such as cortisol) and disorients your body’s natural preparation for sleep.

It can be hard to realize just how powerful the artificial blue light is when you’re looking into your device in close proximity. Up close, you see a whole world of colors.

Yet if the room is dark enough and you take a step back, you can see clearly that the hypnotic blue emanates farther and stronger than any other hue. A good example of this is when you’re driving down your neighborhood street at night and you see that majestic blue light beaming out of people’s windows. You’re probably like a) I wonder what they’re watching? or b) I wonder if they’re getting abducted by aliens? That blue light is tenacious, and what it’s doing to your sleep is really out of this world.

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that the use of light-emitting electronic devices in the hours before bedtime can adversely impact overall health, alertness, and the circadian clock that synchronizes the daily rhythm of sleep.

In the study, nighttime iPad readers took longer to fall asleep, felt less sleepy at night, and had shorter REM sleep compared to test subjects who were assigned to read regular printed books. The iPad readers also secreted less melatonin, which, as you know, has a huge impact on sleep quality. What’s really vital to note is that they were also more tired than book readers the following day, even if both got a full 8 hours of sleep.

Mariana Figueiro, PhD, of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, and her team showed that just 2 hours of computer screen time before bed was enough to significantly suppress people’s nighttime release of melatonin. When your melatonin secretion is thrown off, it will intrinsically throw off your normal sleep cycle.

Dr. Figueiro also noted that if this nighttime device usage happened on a long-term basis, it could lead to a chronic disruption of circadian rhythms. As a result, the likelihood of serious health issues can skyrocket.


It’s important to remember that our cultural use of these electronic devices has been possible for only a few short decades—first with the advent of television, and then really exploding with the invention of lap- tops, tablets, and smartphones more recently. Millions of years of evolution versus a couple decades of late-night meandering doesn’t favor our ability to adapt to this anytime soon.

As human beings, we are literally not designed to stare into the type of light emanating from these devices. When it comes to nighttime usage, we want to be like the little girl in Poltergeist and “stay away from the light.” (Side note: That movie still creeps me out.)

Of course, we have work to do, and the technology we have available to us today is amazing. We just need to have more awareness and more respect for our body’s natural processes so that we can use our devices more wisely.


If you want to give your body the deep sleep it needs, make it a mandate to turn off all screens at least 90 minutes before bedtime in order to allow melatonin and cortisol levels to normalize. If you ignore this and continue to have problems sleeping, I promise you Jimmy Fallon is not going to pay your hospital bills.


Use an alternative medium for nighttime activity. Remember those papery things called books we talked about? You can actually open one of those ancient relics and enjoy consuming a great story, inspiration, or education that way. And remember when people actually talked to each other face-to- face? You can talk to the people in your life, listen to how their day went, and find out what they’re excited about and what they may be struggling with. They can obviously do the same for you, too. In our world, where we’re more connected than ever before in some ways, we are often desperately lacking connection in others. Getting off our electronic devices, having a conversation, and showing affection is vital to our long-term health and well-being.


Turn off the cues. Behavioral psychologist Susan Weinschenk, PhD, says, “One of the most important things you can do to prevent or stop a dopamine loop, and be more productive (and get better sleep!), is to turn off the cues. Adjust the settings on your cell phone and on your laptop, desktop, or tablet so that you don’t receive the automatic notifications. Automatic notifications are touted as wonderful features of hardware, software, and apps. But they are actually causing you to be like a rat in a cage.” If you want to get the best sleep possible, and take back control of your brain, turning off as many visual and auditory cues as you can will be an instant game-changer.

For more strategies on getting the best night's sleep so you feel and look refreshed, well-rested and invigorated, read Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson:

About Author
Shawn Stevenson
Shawn Stevenson is a bestselling author and founder of The Model Health Show. Shawn studied business, biology and kinesiology, and went on to found Advanced Integrative Health Alliance, a company that provides wellness services for individual Continue reading