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Are your digital devices affecting your sleep?

April 11, 2018

How common is poor sleep?

Occasionally depriving ourselves of food (by fasting) is good for our health. In contrast, continual sleep deprivation leads to poor health. Researchers in the U.S found that 70% of the population have inadequate sleep (Harvard Health). In Singapore a leading study suggests that almost half of adults have poor sleeping patterns (when adequate sleep is measured as seven (7) hours or over) particularly during weekdays. This improves on weekends, although around one quarter of those surveyed, still had inadequate sleep (Tan et al, 2016).

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How does insufficient sleep impact health?

Sleep deprived people tend to consume more calories and have higher blood sugars which in turn can lead to weight gain and serious health problems such as obesity and insulin resistance (symptoms of pre-diabetes). The Singaporean study of adult sleeping patterns suggests that when insufficient sleep is  prolonged it can lead to the onset of chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. Some preliminary studies have shown a possible link between low levels of melatonin and cancer (Harvard Health, 2017). Those who smoke and past smokers were found to be particularly susceptible to sleep deprivation. Poor sleep may also affect mental health, resulting in depression and anxiety (Tan et al, 2016).

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Is blue light the cause of poor sleep? 

Prior to the advent of technology the sun was the only source of light during the day and would determine our sleeping patterns. Sunlight contains ultra violet (UV) and blue light. Too much exposure to the sun’s UV rays can affect the eyes. Blue light however, penetrates deeper into the eyes and can damage the retina. Prolonged exposure over time may increase the risk of age related macular degeneration.

Small amounts of blue light is emitted by the high tech devices that we use daily. Although these only emit a fraction of blue light compared to the sun, health professionals are concerned about the long terms effects. Researchers suggests that by 2020 up to 90% of our exposure to blue light will be from artificial light.

Melatonin and the circadian rhythm

Blue light helps to regulate our sleep cycles which in turn maintains memory, mood and hormonal balance. In its natural form, the body uses blue light from the sun to regulate our sleep and wake cycles. This is known as the circadian rhythm – the brain’s 24 hour internal clock.  Melatonin, is a hormone released by the pineal gland – a part of the brain that controls our circadian rhythm. When melatonin levels are low this disrupts our sleep. The artificial blue light emitting from high tech devices suppresses the production of melatonin and is often the cause of poor sleeping patterns. Artificial sources of blue light include; electronic devices such as mobile phones, laptop computers, gaming devices and TV’s as well as energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs and LED lights.  They can all ‘prolong the day into the night’ due to their interference in our internal body clock, making it difficult to sleep.

Blue light filters and increased ‘melatonin’ for a better nights’ sleep.

During the day computer screens look OK as they are designed to provide the same light as daylight. But at night you no longer need that level of brightness and blue light intensity.

In order to reduce your exposure to blue light – the screens of some high tech devices can have a blue light filter installed. These reduce the amount of blue light that reaches our eyes, without effecting the visibility of displays. The use of filters will help prevent blue light from lowering the production of melatonin.  A free program called f.lux can adjust the light on your P.C screen according to the hour of the day or night.  The program calculates the hours of the day and adjusts the light on your P.C to suit.  Some mobile devices have an inbuilt feature that can restrict the amount of blue light. You can also purchase screen protectors that offer blue light protection such as Retinashield. The blue light intensity from mobile phones is always greater than other high tech devices due to its close proximity to eyes.

A high tech sleeping gadget

‘Re-Timer’ is similar in appearance to lightweight sports or safety glasses, and is a frame worn over the eyes. It has been scientifically designed to improve and correct poor sleeping patterns. A row of LED lights inset into the frame are programmed to reset your circadian clock. The frame is worn for just one hour per day and can help resolve sleep deprivation issues.

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There is a time to switch off…

For a better sleep, the bedroom should be free of technology, with all high tech devices stored in another room. Try and avoid late night sugary or caffeinated drinks and have your evening meal several hours prior to sleep. High-tech devices should not be used in the hour prior to sleep. A nap during the day on weekends, is better than sleep-ins for maintaining sleeping patterns (circadian rhythm) in preparation for sleep sufficiency in the working week to come.

References
Cappuccio, Francesco P., Frances M. Taggart, Ngianga-Bakwin Kandala, Andrew Currie, Ed Peile, Saverio Stranges, and Michelle A. Miller. 2008. “Meta-Analysis of Short Sleep Duration and Obesity in Children and Adults.” Sleep 31 (5): 619–26. “What Is Circadian Rhythm?” n.d https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/what-circadian-rhythm
Publishing, Harvard Health. n.d “Blue Light Has a Dark Side – Harvard Health.” Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side.
Tan, Ngiap Chuan, Mui Suan Tan, Siew Wai Hwang, Chia Chia Teo, Zhi Kang Niccol Lee, Jing Yao Jonathan Soh, Yi Ling Eileen Koh, and Choon How. 2016. “Sleep Time and Pattern of Adult Individuals in Primary Care in an Asian Urbanized Community: A Cross-Sectional Study.” Medicine 95 (35): e4749.
“The Lowdown on Blue Light: Good vs. Bad, and Its Connection to AMD.” https://www.reviewofoptometry.com/ce/the-lowdown-on-blue-light-good-vs-bad-and-its-connection-to-amd-109744.