February 26, 2018

An Apple a Day | Red Light for Blue Light: How Technology May Contribute to Your Lack of Sleep

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Sleep deprivation: it is a problem that students across the nation complain about almost daily. Personally, I can’t get through a conversation with someone without the words “I’m so tired” coming up, not to mention the slew of other complaints of work and extracurriculars contributing to the issue. It seems to all of us students that sleep deprivation is almost a way of life; we are lucky to be getting even moderate amounts of sleep daily.

While many are quick to blame their course load, extracurriculars or social life for the epidemic, the issue may just lie in our hands—literally. According to many researchers, smartphones are to blame for many issues related to low sleep quality and lack of sleep.

Smartphones are a way of life for many people.They’re first things we reach for when we turn off our alarms in the morning, and they’re  the last things we put down after we check the news at night. It seems that we can’t live without our phones because they connect us all. Yet, it is this connection that many is the reason behind low sleep quality. When we reach for our phones at night to check for the latest snapchat update or the newest Facebook post, we are not only checking in actively via social media, but also exposing ourselves to blue light.

Blue light is known to suppress melatonin, a hormone that aids in regulating sleep patterns, essentially helping you sleep at night. Even if we are lying in our beds at 12 AM, it is possible that many won’t fall asleep until a long time after because of exposure to blue light. In fact blue light is so detrimental to sleep that researchers advise withdrawing from technology at least a half hour before bedtime. Doing so will increase your quality of sleep in addition to helping you fall asleep at a reasonable hour.

Phones are also prone to sending notifications—constantly. Think about the last time you reached for your phone. For many that time may have been just minutes ago. This constant distraction, including notifications from texts and other apps can be intrusive for the student who needs time to unwind in order to fall asleep. If we were all thinking about that email we need to respond to or that text we are still waiting on, would we ever fall asleep? Thus, phones serve an additional harm in that they keep you awake by disturbing your time to unwind.

Blue light is not only emitted by smartphones—you can be exposed to blue light via almost any technological device. While watching Netflix in your bed an hour before bed may seem like a nice idea, it may in fact not be the greatest of choices. Computers also release blue light, which can have an effect on melatonin excretion and thus lessen sleep quality. So for all of you Netflix lovers out there, try to stop watching TV 1 hour before your ideal bedtime. Doing so will greatly increase both the quality of your sleep and the amount of sleep you get at night.

While reducing blue light exposure before bedtime is not the be-all and end-all  , it is something to be aware of daily. While coursework and extracurricular activities do play an expansive role, reducing blue light exposure may reduce any discomfort that a student is already experiencing. Protip: for those who find it hard to not look at technology for long periods of time, try placing your phone in your coat pocket after putting your coat in your closet. I have found that placing my phone in a place I wouldn’t touch for a long time me from the fact it was there in the first place. In this way, you can get your work done efficiently at night so you can go to sleep early, all while reducing your blue light exposure so you can experience some sound sleep.

The next time you think about the low amount of sleep you have been getting, think about the blue light that may be contributing to it. Even if you can reduce exposure to blue light just a tiny bit, sometimes a little push goes a long way.