Put your computer to sleep before bedtime

By Beth Caron

Do you sleep with your tablet, smartphone or laptop within easy reach?

Go ahead, admit it—if we don’t actually take them to bed with us, most of us at least use one of these devices within an hour of going to sleep. And, according to so many articles I’ve been reading lately, they’re disrupting our sleep and ruining our ability to fully engage at work.

There’s an epidemic of sleeplessness in this country—which means there’s also an epidemic of sleepiness, too.

(Full disclosure: I am suffering from lack of sleep these days, but not necessarily because I’m on my computer close to bed time. My sleep deprivation is more closely related to being a new mother—so you’ll understand by obsession about getting quality, if not quantity, sleep!)

Poor sleep means poor health

So what is it about our computer devices that is so disruptive to our sleep? Experts say the “blue light” emitted by tablets, smartphones, laptops and televisions cuts down our ability to make melatonin, the substance that regulates our biological clocks.

And the side effects are more serious than just dozing off during the day. More and more research suggests that too much “screen time” at night may contribute to a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes and obesity, as well as depression and even cancer.

One of the solutions suggested by Dr. Michael J. Breus, a clinical psychologist and board-certified sleep specialist who writes for the Huffington Post, is something called blue-light blocking. Dr. Breus says that blocking exposure to blue light for three hours before sleeping resulted in better moods, more and higher quality sleep, and improved alertness the following day.

There’s an app for that

So, what should we do? Well, of course, we could shut down our devices at least 30 minutes—and preferably more—before bedtime. “The last 1-2 hours before bed should be at time for winding down,” writes Dr. Breuss. Let’s face it, that’s not likely to happen on a regular basis.

We could wear amber glasses, which filter out the blue light. I suspect most of us—not to mention our sleep partners—would find that a little geeky. Luckily, the geeks that created the problem have also created some solutions.

There are—of course, there are!—apps to reduce the amount of blue light produced by electronic devices. Some even adjust automatically, according to the light condition. Check out f.lux for iPhones and iPads, and Twilight for Androids.

Make it work for you

There is a—ahem—bright side to the blue light effect. Exposure to intense blue light in the morning increases the production of cortisol. Prevention Magazine suggests reading the newspaper on your tablet for 45 minutes in front of a bright window or waking up to blue light, rather than dim natural light. People exposed to blue light during the day are more alert, experience better moods and sleep better at night.

Maybe I should try some of these tricks myself, as least until my kid starts sleeping through the night, which, I know, could be quite a few months longer.

What do you do to get better sleep? Are you guilty of checking your emails on your phone right before you hit the sack? Come on… tell the truth!

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