Modern technology has given us the benefits of being able to access any information and communicate instantly with anyone, anywhere in the world, whether you just want to send text messages or spend an hour or two on video calls. However, just because something has its advantages, doesn't mean that it's the best in everything.
Many of us read off of e-readers, play video games or watch TV right before bed, and this comes at a cost to our sleep quality and overall health. But recently, I had a patient who, among other changes I advised, stopped using her mobile phone 1-2 hours before bed, and her energy levels improved.
Why Can Electronic Devices be Harmful?
So how does cutting back on the use of electronic devices improve sleep quality, and along with it, energy? The light emitting from these devices is higher in short wavelengths of light, meaning it has more "blue" light, and this has a greater effect on melatonin levels than any other wavelength. Melatonin aids sleep length and quality, which is why it is meant to be present at low levels during the day, begin its release a few hours before bed, and peak in the middle of the night. Light suppresses melatonin production, and humans are most sensitive to blue light.
A 2014 study compared the biological effects of reading a printed book versus an e-reader before bed, in order to see if these theories were correct. Volunteers who read e-books took longer to fall asleep, had lower melatonin levels and were less alert in the morning than people who read printed books. This doesn't seem to affect society's addiction to technology, with 90% of Americans in one survey regularly spending time on electronic devices before bed.
How many accidents is this causing, how much quality time wasted, and what about chronic illnesses and years of life lost? Being in the habit of using electronic devices before bed can raise the risk of developing sleep-onset insomnia. The shorter time it took for people to fall asleep after reading print books was even as effective as a drug tested for patients with primary insomnia! The differences are that one of them is convenient, but costs money and carries the risk of side effects; and the second one is essentially free and non-toxic but requires you to change your habits around. I know which one I would choose: the paper books.