When my son was a young boy, I insisted that he sit quietly while I read to him before bedtime. He was a pretty high energy kid and I firmly believed in quiet time to transition him from all the activity of the day to rest.
This was in the days before cell phones, laptops, tablets, e-readers and an array of other devices that make our lives easier but can also add distractions to our otherwise busy days.
Most of us are connected to devices of one type or another for a good part of the day – we use computers at work, we get our news online, we stay connected with friends and family through social media, anything and everything we need information-wise is available online. Most of this is imperative to function in a meaningful way.
However, more and more research now tends to indicate that too much “screen time” in the evenings can disrupt our sleep, which can not only make us cranky during the day but can also be a contributing factor in a number of serious health issues.
The problem is actually two-fold. One is the mental stimulation of texting, reading up on the news (especially depressing and serious news) getting caught up on everyone’s Facebook posts from the day, maybe even answering work emails, etc. The other is biology. The light that emits from the screens of our devices can interfere with our body’s natural daytime to nighttime rhythm. You can read up on all the science of melatonin and circadian systems, but the bottom line is, exposing our eyes to too much light – especially blue light spectrum devices - in the hours before going to bed can be detrimental to our health.
There are a number of things you can do to minimize your exposure – turn down the brightness on your devices in the evening or use devices with smaller screens. There are even apps that automatically apply a filter at the time of day you determine. If you like to read e-books, there are devices that do not operate with the blue light spectrum but look more like a book – black and white. It’s not just devices that are the culprit, super bright light bulbs, TV’s, etc. all can contribute to the problem. Consider changing light bulbs in the fixtures in your home, turning some lights off or dimming them in the evening. Consider a set time to turn off the television sets, especially if you have young children in the house.
Then there’s the old-fashioned idea of just turning everything off and spending time connecting with your spouse and children. Transition time between busy days and restful sleep is as important today as ever and if you have young children, please consider how much of their days are spent looking at a screen. Depending on their age, reading to them at night from a book is still a time-tested, weary-parent-approved activity.
We all pretty much need to use available technology as part of our day, but there are things we can do to minimize the way it affects our sleep and health and that of our loved ones.