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Does screen time before bed affect sleep?

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Many of us take our tablets, smartphones and laptops to bed with us, extending our workday or even as a way to relax to prepare for sleep.

In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, 90 percent of U.S. residents use a technological device within an hour of bedtime. What may come as a shock is that the habit can actually make it more difficult to fall asleep. Using such devices, including TVs, delays the body’s circadian rhythm, which suppresses the release of melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone), says NSF.

The cause? The artificial blue light emitted by the devices, which delays the onset of REM sleep, and reduces the total amount of REM sleep. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is the deep sleep our bodies need to refresh themselves daily. “Over time, these effects can add up to a significant, chronic deficiency in sleep,” says NSF.

In fact, over time, blue light can “potentially cause disease” like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity, according to Harvard University, which notes that, while all artificial light affects our circadian rhythm, blue light from electronic devices is the worst.

Harvard recommends the following to protect yourself from blue light at night:

  • Use dim red lights for night lights.
  • Avoid looking at bright screens two to three hours before bed.
  • If you work a night shift or use a lot of electronic devices at night, consider wearing blue-blocking glasses or installing an app that filters the blue/green wavelength at night.
  • Expose yourself to lots of bright light during the day, which will boost your ability to sleep at night, as well as your mood and alertness during daylight.

NSF recommends reading a print book or “using an e-ink e-reader (like the Kindle Paperwhite, as opposed to the Kindle Fire...because it doesn't produce the same type of blue light that a smartphone or tablet.”

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