Sleep. You remember that? It was that lovely revitalising thing we all used to do every night. Pfft! Not any longer.
It seems these days everyone I speak to, from family members to friends, is suffering from some sleeping disorder or another. If it isn’t problems falling to sleep, it’s frequent waking and in some cases full blown insomnia. Eek!
In fact, such is the problem that recently the Centre for Disease Control declared the prevalence of sleeping disorders to constitute a public health epidemic. Yikes!
So what’s to blame for our lack of slumber. Well, old Tommy Edison has a lot to answer for, it was his invention of the electric lightbulb that started it all the problems. Once he helped us electrify the night we began to act against a long process of evolution that associates darkness with sleep.
Then came along the biggest problem – screens. Yep, that screen you’re looking at right now could be singlest biggest reason why you’re not getting the sleep your body and mind so desperately require. Read on below and explain exactly why screens and sleep are terrible bedfellows.
Screens and melatonin
For countless generations our ancestors lived in sync with the rising and falling of the sun. When that big yellow ball popped up in the morning we came out of our caves to hunt and gather. When sunset fell, we scuttled back under cover for fear of the long dark night. Our brains evolved to associate light with being awake and alert, and darkness with sleep.
This association with darkness and sleep still exists, when the light begins to fade our eyes send messages to the brain’s pineal gland, which triggers the release of a hormone called melatonin. When melatonin floods through our system it driggers drowsiness and signals to our body that it’s time to get some shuteye.
So, where do screens come in? Well, unfortunately the light emitted from your television, laptop or smartphone all falls on the same part of the blue light spectrum as daylight. Meaning whilst it may be pitch black outside, if you’re watching television or scrolling social media before bed, your poor brain still thinks it’s daytime. Melatonin production is delayed and the result is that when you finally put ear to pillow, your mind is still alert and racing like it’s midday. What a nightmare!
Screens and overstimulation
It’s not just the pesky bluelight that causes problems when it comes to bedtimes. Oh no, it’s how we interact with them too.
In today’s world screens are no longer just one-way information emitting objects they were when our parents were young, far from it. Today’s screens are often highly tactile interfaces. Tablets and smartphones require input in order to function. This is why we love them, it’s like playing a game! And that’s even before you even get to all the actually games you can play on them.
This two-way exchange is why we love our smartphones and tablets so. But it also means the brain has to keep constantly active. If you’re tap, tap, tapping away on your screen seconds before you flick the bedroom light off to sleep, then your brain is going to be buzzing.
If you’re interested in working out just how much sleep you actually get a night, there are some unbelievably useful gadgets out there that help you monitor exactly the impact screens are having on your slumber.
Screens and addiction
The light and the way we use screens both conspire to keep us awake. So too does the things we are are consuming through these screens. Social media and most apps work on the reward centres of our brain. Everytime a photo we’ve posted receives a like or a comment, we are rewarded with a little dose of the neurotransmitter dopamine. It feels good, like getting a little hug for the brain.
The problem is with anything that feels good, we begin to crave more of it and then an addiction forms. Marketers and app developers are super aware of this fact and they pray on it like vultures. Pretty much every app today works like a game, the more you interact with it the more feedback it gives you, the more mini brain hugs you get.
The result of this is the average American is now thought to check their phone every 12 minutes they are awake. That’s 80 times a day!
Our screen addiction means bedrooms are no longer the preserve of sleep alone. We now scroll social media, reply to emails and watch movies while tucked up in bed. The consequence of this is that our brains have learnt to dissociate beds with sleep. Just another reason why you can’t get no sleep.
Technology is a truly wonderful thing, screens and the devices they are attached too have revolutionised pretty much every aspect of our lives. In many ways for the better but when it comes to sleep the correlation is clear. Screens are a problem.
The solution however isn’t that hard, all you need to do is adopt a couple of healthy nighttime measures, such as power down all screens an hour before bed and banning smartphones from your bedroom entirely. Simple. Once you’ve done that you’ll soon find a good night far easier to come by. Sweet dreams!