Over the past few years, smartphones have become an integral part of life for people in most developed and developing countries. People are spending more and more time using their smart phones as its technological versatility is increasing every day. You can now read books, take photos, watch TV shows and videos, play games, maintain contact with people, and more – all through a simple 5-inch device that sits comfortably in your pocket. And amid all this people are forgetting the potentially negative impact it might be having on their lives.
Recently, researchers at the University of California have found that exposure to a smart phone screen is negatively related to the quality of sleep one experiences. In this peer-reviewed study that appeared in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) One journal on November 9, 2016, people were asked to download an Android app that record and transmit screen-on time in the background. All the voluntary participants of this study were chosen from University of California’s concurrent Health eHeart study and thus had sensors on them that gathered sleep data. This data was then used in correlation with the screen-on time metrics to determine the pattern over a 30-day period.
It was found that on average, people had their phone’s screen on for about 1 hour and 29 minutes each day. Younger people, females and Hispanic and Black ethnicities significantly digressed from this number and had more screen on-time. The peak usage of smart phones was in the evenings, between 6 and 9 p.m.
With this data in hand, it was determined that the more people use their smartphone screens, the lesser they slept, it was more difficult for them to sleep, and the quality of their sleep was severely degraded. These effects were particularly pronounced in people who used their smartphones close to bedtime.
Now the question arises that how do smartphone screens alter the way we sleep? Well, the answer to this lies in a small molecule that the body secretes to induce sleep – melatonin.
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in our brain and is tasked with maintaining our sleep-wake cycle. It is sort of like our body’s very own clock. During the day, the pineal gland is hard at work, synthesizing melatonin. And as night falls, it begins secreting it into our bloodstream which induces that drowsy feeling that helps us go to sleep. The secretion continues during our sleep and stops when it is time for us to wake up. Therefore adequate melatonin production and secretion is necessary for a good night’s sleep.
An important factor with melatonin’s efficacy is the color of light the body is exposed to throughout the day. Naturally, the body’s melatonin mechanism is evolved with respect to light and dark. Your body uses blue wavelength light from the sun to trigger melatonin production and then takes its lower levels at night to cue melatonin’s release in the blood stream. One can easily infer from this that any sort of artificial light can throw this system out of whack. That is true but all artificial lights don’t disturb the melatonin system on the same scale. The blue light that is emitted by LED lights, smartphone and laptop screens is far more disruptive in this regard because it tricks the body into thinking that it is not currently night as yet. Thus the release of melatonin is delayed or interrupted and our body’s natural clock is unsettled.
How detrimental is this? Studies have shown that melatonin deficiency and the ensuing decline in sleep quality can lead to such problems as obesity, depression, diabetes, heart diseases, and even cancer. And this should come as no surprise because sleep, along with a good diet and exercise, are considered as pillars for maintaining one’s health. Sleep is the time when your body winds down and does repair work on all the wear and tear that takes place during the day. It is sort of a planned maintenance and any interference to it is severally harmful in the long run. You wouldn’t want to drive an ill-maintained car then why should you condone such a thing with your body?
Conclusively, while it is close to impossible to completely give up smartphone use in today’s day and age, one can still work to curtail its harmful effects on sleep. Smartphone usage should be reduced after nightfall, blue light filters should be employed on the screen, and bedtime usage should be effectively avoided. And for added protection one can also wear filtering goggles that work to eliminate ambient blue light. With these steps you can aid your body in getting the proper rest it deserves and ensure your optimal health in the process.