Many of us are guilty of checking our smartphones right before bed. Whether we’re scrolling through Instagram or Tumblr, often looking at one post just isn’t enough. Hours will go by until we finally discover its 1am.
Artificial light is one of the biggest causes of sleep deprivation, however, taking that a step further, the light in our smartphones, tablets and computers is even worse. This light is called “blue light” and it completely messes with our sleep cycle by forcing our bodies to stay awake and be convinced that its actually morning.
Blue light is particularly effective in telling our brains that morning has come. But when its time to go to sleep, you want your brain to have the opposite cue. The solution? Stop using your smartphone at night.
It is curious that the rise in insomnia has also coincided with a rise in technology and smartphone usage. Normally, at night, there is more low-wave red light that signals your body to prep for bed. When the blue light from electronics interferes with this, it completely throws our bodies off guard.
Here are 6 serious reasons why you NEED to stop using your smartphone at night:
1. It can damage your eyes
There is some evidence that blue light can damage our vision by harming the retina over time (1) and causing macular degeneration (the loss of central vision, or the inability to see what is right in front of you).
Artificial blue light is one of the shortest, highest energy wavelengths in the visible light spectrum. Because they are shorter, the wavelengths flicker more easily, which creates a glare that can reduce visual contrast and affect sharpness and clarity (2). This is often the case for why people experience digital eyestrain and suffer from symptoms like blurry vision, difficulty focusing, dry and irritated eyes, headaches, neck and back pain, after a days work at the computer.
Since quitting using my phone at night, my mystery morning eye strain that would often last into the afternoon went away. It felt like I hadn’t slept at all, but really, it was just the effects that the blue light had on my eyes.
2. Sleep loss
Blue light disrupts melatonin production, which directly translates to sleep loss. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates the body’s sleeping cycle. If your sleep cycle isn’t properly regulated, you won’t be getting the amount of sleep you truly need. Sleep loss results in a variety of different health problems, such as those mentioned here.
3. Higher risk of cancer
Melatonin is one of the most important antioxidants that our body produces naturally. Since melatonin is suppressed by blue light emitted from smartphones and tablets, then your body is essentially being depleted from this powerful antioxidant. Disrupting melatonin production for one night wouldn’t be a serious issue, however, some people are on their phone chronically from night to night for hours at a time.
Lack of sleep can raise your risk of breast, colorectal and prostate cancer, to be specific (3). Lack of melatonin means higher risk of cellular damage, higher inflammation rates and disruption of normal immune function (all 3 major roles that melatonin is involved in preventing).
People whose melatonin levels are suppressed, and whose body clocks are modified by light exposure are also more prone to depression. Lack of sleep interferes with our neurotransmitters, and can ultimately lead to a decline in synaptic signalling between neurons, which normally regulate our mood (4).
5. Weight gain
By disrupting our melatonin production and sleep cycles, smartphone light emissions at night can also mess with the hormones that control hunger, increasing the risk of obesity. According to Dr. Siegel, lack of sleep can ruin your insulin levels, which directly effects your body’s metabolism (5). If your metabolism is messed up, then your weight will be, too.
Getting less than seven hours of sleep at night can also prevent our glial cells from cleaning up the toxins that our brain cells produce. In over 95% of people, these toxins remain in the body and not surprisingly, contribute to weight gain.
6. Disrupts the brain
Not getting enough sleep caused by smartphone light can also make it harder to learn, and may leave you distracted and impair your memory the next day (6). When comparing the brain of sleep deprived individuals with those who have received plenty of sleep, scientists have found reduced metabolism and blood flow in multiple brain regions. This results in impaired cognitive function and behaviour.
How To Fix The Problem?
If you want to improve your sleep, you can follow these steps. They essentially include shutting off your electronics at least 1-2 hours before bed, and getting away from artificial light by using red LED christmas lights instead (that’s what I do).
Unfortunately, being glued to your screen before bedtime can be incredibly addicting and comforting in a sense. Almost ritualistic to be honest. I remember when I used to check all the pages that I followed in the wee hours of the night. Quitting had to be done cold turkey. Once you realize the negative benefits being on the phone before bed has on your health, you shouldn’t have any problem quitting.