Technology is Messing With Your Sleep

Julie Shenkman
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Technological advances propel an individual's knowledge, capabilities and productivity forward and upward at a rapid rate. These advances, however, do not come without a price. New research has uncovered some surprising ways in which technology could be interfering with your sleep, depriving you of the restful slumber you need for maximum functioning.

You've probably heard for much of your life how important a good night's sleep is for you. Exactly why sleep is so vital, though, has remained a mystery. Scientists discovered decades ago that the value of sleep is experienced primarily by the dreaming brain. Recent research at the University of Rochester suggests that sleep is the time when your brain flushes itself clean with cerebrospinal fluid, clearing out molecular waste products. These researchers believe sleep problems result in waste product buildup, which causes impaired functioning during your waking hours.

Impaired functioning causes mistakes to be made on the job, accidents at home and work, and overall lower quality and quantity of work. Lack of adequate sleep is also linked to depression, cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes. Illness and exhaustion contribute to losses from sick time as well. Despite awareness of the benefits of getting at least eight hours of sleep each night, a National Sleep Foundation study found that 63 percent of those surveyed said they regularly don't get enough sleep.

The reasons for sleep problems are many and vary according to the individual, but for many people, technology might be at least partially to blame. Besides providing ample distractions that keep you awake when you should be sleeping, technology interferes with sleep in some surprising ways.

If you are one of the 95 percent who reportedly use electronics in the hour before sleep, whether watching TV as you fall asleep or texting while lying in bed, then you might wish to reconsider this nightly habit. Researchers have found that exposure to light emitted from luminous displays, such as those found on tablets or TVs, within two hours before sleep suppresses melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone that affects your internal, natural body clock, and decreased melatonin levels interfere with sleep.

Your sleep might be disturbed by the gadgets themselves if you are one of the many people who sleep with their phone next to their bed and are regularly woken by alerts. Older technologies such as televisions and video games are not off the hook either. These devices also can interfere with sleep, especially if watched or played within the period just prior to bedtime.

Though you and most other Americans are unlikely to stop using gadgets altogether, you can mitigate the negative ways technology interferes with sleep by adjusting some of your nighttime rituals. And not all technologies cause harm. Listening to relaxing music on your player, reading under the indirect light of a lamp and reading on an ebook reader without a luminous display may actually help you get a good night's sleep.


(Photo courtesy of graur razvan ionut /


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