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Staring at a backlit screen at 11pm may make your eyes feel
tired but it's having the opposite effect on your whole body clock
King Henry IV was blaming his lack of sleep on worry over his wayward
son and heir. But several centuries later, millions of people are
having much the same problem wilting their own eyelids down. Only now
the main culprits are our beloved technologies and their steady,
silent invasion of our bedrooms.
The tiny light of your computer or phone winking at you in the dark
might seem harmless enough, but it's having an insidious effect on the
amount and quality of your sleep.
Blue light emitted from mobile phones, digital alarm clocks, modems,
computers, TV sets and even smoke detectors often play havoc with our
natural circadian rhythms. This means reduced quality of sleep,
especially Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep which is the deepest cycle
and the most necessary for proper physical and mental rejuvenation.
In 2011, a large scale poll
by the National Sleep Foundation in the US tracked the average
punter's use of communications technology in the 60 minutes before
bedtime. (It's a fair bet that the stats wouldn't be all that
different for Aussies.)
The report states that the use of communications technology in the
hour before going to bed is "pervasive" with a whopping 95%
of respondents reporting habitual use of electronics several times a
week in that crucial 60 minutes before hitting the pillows.
Light-emitting screens are the baddies here. Evening exposure to this
kind of artificial light pushes our circadian rhythms forward by about
an hour and also suppresses our body's release of melatonin, which is
a natural sleep-inducing hormone, necessary for quality sleep. Staring
at a backlit screen at 11pm may make your eyes feel tired but it's
having the opposite effect on your whole body clock.
The National Sleep Foundation's survey found that surfing the
internet on a computer or laptop was the most popular pre-bedtime
activity with an overall score of 61%. This was closely followed by
watching television, which scored 56%. Using a mobile phone came in
with 29% and playing video games ranked at 21%.
Overall, almost two thirds (63%) of respondents admitted their sleep
needs weren't being met during the week. This is an alarming
statistic, given that chronic lack of sleep can lead to all kinds of
nasties. And we're not just talking the big guns like diabetes, heart
disease and stroke, but also many other conditions that are less
dramatic but still debilitating. Like reduced memory, attention span
and poor concentration. Not a good combo with your TAFE studies.
There's also the small matter of increased risk of accidents. I don't
mean to be alarmist, but sleep deprivation was a key factor in the
1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, the disastrous Exxon
Valdez Oil spill and the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl. Just a
few more good reasons to turn your electronics off at night.
Kinda makes King Henry's woes about his capricious son and the future
of his kingdom seem like a walk in the park.