A study published in the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the US) shows that reading a backlit device before bed makes your sleep substantially worse than reading a paper book under dim light from a lightbulb.
According to the study:
- While people are using an iPad at night their body produces 55% less melatonin
- After shutting off the lights (and the iPad), they took an extra 10 minutes to fall asleep
- When they did fall asleep, they had less REM sleep during the night
- The next morning, the iPad readers felt sleepier, and it took them “hours longer” to feel alert. The book readers quickly felt more alert immediately upon waking.
- When it was time for bed the next night, the iPad readers’ circadian clocks were delayed by more than 90 minutes. Their bodies began to feel tired an hour and a half later than normal, because they were exposed to alerting light from the iPad the night before.
The study found that, “Overall, we found that the use of portable light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime has biological effects that may perpetuate sleep deficiency and disrupt circadian rhythms, both of which can have adverse impacts on performance, health, and safety.”
Each participant was tested with both the iPad and reading a book. Books on paper did not suppress melatonin or cause participants to feel groggy the next day.
The 5-day study was conducted by Anne-Marie Chang, Daniel Aeschbach, Jeanne F. Duffy, and Charles A. Czeisler at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital).
While many of us know that sleep is essential to our health, we disregard this part of our life. Making matters worse, with the rise in popularity of handheld devices, we use them to read while in bed, or worse, poke at them while playing games or using apps. Many people don’t realize that they have become passively, subconsciously addicted to technology, and don’t want to let their devices go. Some of us even carry our laptops to bed, finishing up work, or simply consuming content on a larger screen.
All of this adds up to poor sleep hygiene, and serious health implications. Chronic sleep deficiency and disruption of circadian rhythms will occur if you use backlit devices in bed. This includes basically everything, from phones, to tablets, to laptops. The only devices that are excluded are e-readers with E-Ink electronic paper displays, like the original model Amazon Kindle (but not the Kindle Fire–we’re talking black and white screens).
As a result of using devices, and other poor choices, one third of people in the US do not get enough sleep. You should get 8 hours of sleep per night, but the average person gets 4-6 hours. Disrupting your sleep has serious implications for your health; studies have shown this can lead to:
- Heart problems (hardening of the arteries)
- Mood problems (anxiety, depression, misdiagnosis of problems like ADD)
- Memory loss
- Weight gain (and obesity)
Having a single night of disrupted sleep (which you may not even be aware of, but if you’re looking at a computer right now and it’s your bedtime, it’s too late) will result in raised stress hormones.
Raised stress hormones not only shorten your lifespan, but they absolutely, unequivocally prevent good hair health. They make you shed hair faster, and they prevent the hair regrowth process. Stress is a complete barrier to entry when it comes to winning the battle against hair loss.
So what can you do about it?
- Firstly, cut out stimulants from your diet. That generally means coffee, at least after noon. Energy drinks and shots should go–they are a chemical syrup and terrible for you anyway.
- Make your bedroom a sanctuary. Remove distractions. The bedroom should be a place to sleep, not work. Remove the TV, computer, etc. If you use your phone as an alarm, keep it out of the bedroom until you go to bed.
- Remove anything else that emits a light. Especially as we age, melatonin is more difficult to produce, and things that produce light in the bedroom can disrupt this important internal process needed to fall asleep. Studies show that surprisingly short glimpses of bright light can disrupt sleep, so try to avoid it completely for an hour before bed if possible.
- Practice good sleep hygiene. Power down your brain a good half hour (or an hour if you can) before bedtime. Try to talk and converse with others as little as possible, as this has a major effect on brainwave state. Close the laptop and put away your devices. Read a book, and if you use an e-book reader, use an electronic paper reader under an incandescent lightbulb (purchase a yellow light bulb (!), do not use a “daylight bulb” as these emit the same blue light spectrum as electronic devices). Alternatively, meditate, do yoga, or do anything else that you find relaxing. Just make a habit of stopping work, and stopping devices.
If you must use a laptop or tablet at night, use f.lux.
F.lux is an app that adjusts your device’s screen to improve the color spectrum at night. Once installed, you won’t have to run it again; it will automatically shift the spectrum your screen produces to a warmer one in the evening (gradually, alongside the sunset), and back to normal during the daytime.
Ideally, you should not rely on this as an excuse to use devices all night long–it won’t fix sleep deprivation. But if you wake up in the middle of the night and do have to type something or otherwise use a device, it’s good to have on hand, since it shifts the color profile of your screen to a spectrum which produces less blue light during night hours.
For more in-depth tips on reducing stress and comprehensive hair health, check out the Hair Secrets book.