OK, so you know that sleep is important. You’ve heard that good sleep improves your memory, concentration, and motivation. It makes you healthier, helps you lose weight or get fit, reduces anxiety and increases positive hormones in your body. It protects against depression and other mental illness — and it even makes your skin look younger.
You’re in. You want to sleep better and look after your health.
But did you know that one of the biggest challenges for good quality sleep in our modern lives are those things that we carry with us everywhere we go…our screens?
Your phone, tablet, laptop, and even your TV all reduce your chances of getting a good night’s sleep.
Why do screens affect sleep so much?
Research published by the American National Sleep Foundation shows that screen time before bed has a number of worrying effects:
• it delays your internal body clock, or your circadian rhythm, so your body doesn’t know it’s time for sleep and you don’t get natural feelings of sleepiness.
• it suppresses the release of hormones that are vital for getting sleepy and falling asleep. In particular, it reduces the release of melatonin, a vital hormone for creating physiological feelings of sleepiness.
• the blue light emitted by screens increases your body’s alertness, making you feel awake or wired.
• the content you’re exposed to via your screens stimulates your brain — making your mind race, and triggering anxiety in those who are susceptible to it.
So the more you look at electronic devices in the evening, the more likely that you won’t fall asleep easily, or will wake up unnecessarily during the night. This is no big deal for one night, or even a few nights in a row; but over time, the impact of regular evening screen exposure can creative chronic sleep disorders.
So, what to do?
Lots of us look for a solution to the negative effects of evening screen time that will allow us to keep on using our devices. We try fitting coloured filters on our screens, or apps that reduce blue light emission.
But the reality is that the only solution is the one that is healthiest for you: turn off your screens for at least one hour before bed, and more if possible.
Opt for reading a physical book instead, or practicing a gentle stretching routine, or simply talking face-to-face with a housemate, partner, or relative. The final hours of the day are the perfect time to ground yourself in your body and arrive calmly in the present moment. Switch of, let go of those digital demands that weigh on your life, and be right here, right now.
You’ll fall asleep quicker and sleep more deeply. And you’ll wake up feeling refreshed, energised, and ready to take on the challenges of a new day.