It’s 10:30 at night and you’re lying in bed watching TV, scanning the Facebook news feed, responding to emails and texting your BFF. Does this look like a scene straight from your bedroom? If so, you may be one of millions of people having difficulty sleeping because they are too “plugged in.”
Research shows that using electronics shortly before going to bed affects sleep for a variety of reasons.
First, artificial light tricks the brain into thinking it’s daytime. This throws off the body’s circadian rhythm and decreases the level of melatonin secreted by the brain. Melatonin is a hormone, produced in the absence of light, that helps regulate sleep. Decreasing a device’s brightness may help to keep melatonin levels from diminishing.
Second, electronic use revs up the brain and keeps it alert, which is the opposite effect from what you want occurring shortly before going to sleep. It’s important for the brain to have downtime to prepare for sleep. There also is the possibility of running across an email or post that may upset you, making it more difficult to relax and fall asleep.
Why is sleep such a big deal? It’s estimated that 63 percent of Americans aren’t getting enough of it, and sleep deprivation is linked to a variety of health disorders, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and anxiety. Fatigue also can cause human error that increases the risk of vehicle crashes and industrial disasters.
So, what should you do? It’s suggested that you have an electronics curfew of one to two hours prior to bedtime. This allows time for your body to relax, for melatonin levels to rise and for signals to your body that bedtime is approaching. Also, try to go to bed at the same time every evening and get up at the same time every morning so your body has a schedule it is used to. Soothing activities such as taking a bath, reading a book or listening to quiet music also can relax the body and prepare it for sleep.
Hopefully, these tips will help you get plenty of rest, feel great and stay healthy.
McGregor is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Sutter Gould Medical Foundation.