Why Is Tech (And Screen Time) Bad News For Sleep?
Posted by Samantha Nice, Sep 07, 2022
We all know from experience that screen time and sleep don’t always make for the best bedfellows, but why exactly can tech be so terrible for our sleep? Here, sleep consultant Nick Witton (who devised the 11 Golden Rules for our Perfect Night’s Sleep Plan) tells us about the two hormones at play…
Melatonin Is The Magic Word
What it is...
“Melatonin is a naturally produced hormone which facilitates the onset of sleep,” Nick explains. “Melatonin occurs 2-3 hours before the sleep onset, allowing a period of time for melatonin to be increased in the body.” Crucially Nick says, this only happens during dim light.
What they say...
One study found that using an iPad for two hours prior to bed blocked rising melatonin levels by a significant 23 percent. Compared to reading a printed book, reading on an iPad suppressed melatonin released by over 50% at night. “Humans are ‘blue sky detectors’ when it comes to modulating melatonin levels,” Nick says. The ‘shortwave’ blue light emitted from electronic devices interferes directly with our melatonin levels, keeping our brains and bodies alert when they should be slowing down into ‘longer’ waves in preparation for sleep.
Calm Down The Cortisol
What it is...
“Cortisol is a hormone produced by your adrenal glands and is released by your body in response to stress,” Nick says. “You become more alert and stronger than you normally are. The fight-or-flight response is nature’s way of protecting us.” Which is great in certain situations but not so conducive for our sleep. “LED-based devices increases the release of cortisol in the brain and inhibits the production of melatonin,” Nick says. So as gripping as that latest Korean zombie series is, it’s probably not going to set you up for the most peaceful night’s sleep.
What they say...
A recent survey of over fifteen hundred American adults found that 90 percent of individuals regularly used some form of portable electronic device 60 minutes or less before bedtime. A study found that 84% of those who’ve been working from their bedroom have found their sleeping pattern is either ‘disrupted’ or ‘very disrupted’ as a result of working from their bedrooms.
What Can We Do?
“Where possible, have a 90-minute wind down period, in a dimly lit room, to allow the hormones to realign,” says Nick. It’s not just avoiding screens. “Any bright artificial lights in the evenings are therefore sending mixed messages to the brain, signalling that we should stay alert and not be asleep. Ideally it would be good to use candlelight where it is safe to do so, Nick says, “but other alternatives such as salt lamps which contain very little blue light are also very effective.”
Banish The Bathroom Light
Already have a wind down routine? Don’t undo all your good work at the end says Nick. “Dim the lights in the bathroom, as these are normally the brightest lights in the house and also the last light we use before bed.”
About Nick: Nick Witton is an experienced Sleep Consultant (at Elite Sleep) with nearly a decade of experience working in the elite sports and wellness industry. He specialises in helping athletes and executives to improve their daytime performance by understanding their individual body clock (or circadian rhythm) so they can reach peak cognitive and physical performance. He has a Postgraduate Degree in Sleep Medicine from the University of Oxford and is currently researching his Masters of Science focusing on circadian rhythms and the role of light on sleep and performance.