With all the negative buzz about screen time in general, it may seem odd to focus in on screen time before bed. If it’s bad during the day, it’s bad at bedtime, right? Well, right. But you may be surprised to find that indulging in screen time before bed in particular can have an even bigger impact on your physical health than you realize.
-How Important is Sleep Anyway?
Did you know that getting too little sleep is one of the strongest risk factors for obesity?
How about that scrimping on sleep is associated with higher risk of stroke, heart and kidney diseases, diabetes, and high blood pressure?
Were you aware that a lack of sleep can cause similar brain malfunctions as alcohol intoxication?
Okay, so sleep is clearly super important. But how does screen time before bed—and the blue light it emits—affect the restorative sleep we need so badly?
-What effect do screens have on sleep?
We all know that cell phones and other screened devices are a constant distraction. A while back, one study showed that Americans reach for their phone, on average, 80 times per day, with 10% of people reaching for their phone every 4 minutes. That’s a scary lot of screen time and a ridiculous number of times to turn our attention from things that matter to things that don’t.
But at night, the screen time problem increases because it starts to heavily affect the only period many people find they can realistically be without a screen for any good length of time.
Doctors have recommended that screen time before bed end at least one hour before hitting the sack, some going so far as to say two hours would be better. Why?
Well, how many times have you put off going to sleep because you needed to finish just one more episode? Refresh your Insta feed one more time? Send off those last few work emails?
How many times have you woken up in the middle of the night to check notifications? A study by Common Sense Media found that more than one in three teens and one in four parents wakes up to check his or her phone at least once per night. And a third of teens are actually sleeping with their phones in their beds with them.
Other times it’s a matter of waking up for other reasons but we’ve become so dependent on our devices that screen time and bedtime have become synonymous. We are actually training our brains to think they need the stimulation of screen time in order to go back to sleep, despite the counterintuitive nature of blue light and bedtime.
We’re pushing our bodies and minds to perform longer than they’re meant to, and we’re paying the price.
-What’s the deal with blue light?
Blue-wavelength light stimulates our eyes more than any other wavelength, sending signals to our brains that it’s time to be awake and alert. Blue light disrupts the production of melatonin, the sleepy hormone, which usually starts telling our bodies to get ready for bed a few hours before sundown. Exposure to blue light before bed also resets our natural circadian rhythms, telling our brains, in no uncertain terms, to WAKE UP.
In short, blue light before bed is a sure way to lose out on restorative hours of sleep required for optimal physical, mental, and emotional function.
-How can we decrease screen time before bed?
Decreasing screen time before bed is all about building healthy habits. They’re not going to appear overnight and it will require some serious brain rewiring. But it’s doable, and it’s worth it because screen time and sleep don’t mix.
-A few tips for decreasing screen time before bed
There is no time like the present. Now that you know better, try one of these tips to start decreasing your screen time before bed tonight!
· Start by picking one day a week where all screens (television, cell phones, tablets, etc.) are turned off by 5pm. Ease into it!
· Create a “sleeping” station for all portable electronics that is NOT in your bedroom.
· Keep a stack of books and magazines or a journal on your nightstand if you need something to help you wind down before crashing.
· Change the settings on your phone to emit a warmer light that turns on at 6pm. It’s not only a warning sign to start weaning off of blue light before bed, but it will help decrease the blue light being emitted.
· If you absolutely have to be on a computer or other blue light screen close to bedtime, dim the screen and the lights in the room.
If you come across other tips for decreasing screen time before bed or know of ideas that work for you, comment and share them below!