The National Sleep Foundation‘s annual Sleep in America poll recently found a relatively new reason we’re not getting enough shut-eye — we’re hooked on electronics. Almost all (95%) of the 1,508 adults surveyed reported using electronic devices like TVs, computers, video games, or cell phones at least a few nights a week within an hour of bedtime.
The problem? That artificial blue-white glow these devices emit apparently tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daylight — so it’s time to be awake.
“Artificial light exposure between dusk and the time we go to bed at night suppresses release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, enhances alertness and shifts circadian rhythms to a later hour—making it more difficult to fall asleep,” says Charles Czeisler, PhD, MD, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
The good news for those of us who routinely sleep with a cell phone next to the bed (guilty) is that the survey didn’t show a direct link between electronics use and an inability to sleep — although setting an “electronic curfew” about an hour before bedtime might help if you’re having trouble falling asleep.
“Unfortunately cell phones and computers, which make our lives more productive and enjoyable, may also be abused to the point that they contribute to getting less sleep at night leaving millions of Americans functioning poorly the next day,” says Russell Rosenberg, PhD, Vice Chairman of the National Sleep Foundation.
“If you’re having problems sleeping at night, or if you’re feeling too sleepy the next day, take a look at your bedtime habits,” says Allison Harvey, PhD, behavioral sleep expert at UC Berkeley. “Create a relaxing wind-down routine and turn down the lights. Make your bedroom a sanctuary from the worries of your day.”
If that’s not working, the National Sleep Foundation offers the following tips:
- Set and stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same times each day.
- Expose yourself to bright light in the morning and avoid it at night. Exposure to bright morning light energizes us and prepares us for a productive day. Alternatively, dim your lights when it’s close to bedtime.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise in the morning can help you get the light exposure you need to set your biological clock. Avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime if you are having problems sleeping.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Allow enough time to wind down and relax before going to bed.
- Create a cool, comfortable sleeping environment that is free of distractions. If you’re finding that entertainment or work-related communications are creating anxiety, remove these distractions from your bedroom.
- Treat your bed as your sanctuary from the stresses of the day. If you find yourself still lying awake after 20 minutes or so, get up and do something relaxing in dim light until you are sleepy.
- Keep a “worry book” next to your bed. If you wake up because of worries, write them down with an action plan, and forget about them until morning.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages, chocolate and tobacco at night.
- Avoid large meals and beverages right before bedtime.
- No nightcaps. Drinking alcohol before bed can rob you of deep sleep and can cause you to wake up too early.
- Avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, ask your doctor or pharmacist if your medications might be contributing to your sleep problem.
- No late-afternoon or evening naps, unless you work nights. If you must nap, keep it under 45 minutes and before 3:00 pm.
If you find you’re waking up exhausted, have morning headaches, catch yourself falling asleep at inappropriate times, or if your partner notices you stop breathing in your sleep you may have a sleep disorder. It’s important to talk to your doctor about these symptoms.
If your doctor decides you need a sleep study, the FMH Center for Advanced Sleep Studies and EEG can help. The Center is an eight-bed sleep lab featuring comfortable, modern rooms with emergency medical and professional security coverage onsite 24 hours a day. All studies are interpreted by board-certified Sleep Physicians. Most insurance is accepted.