Light emitted from digital devices can wreck your sleep, mess with brain development and cause all kindsa ailments. Today, all the reasons you should stop staring at your phone before bed!
By Janeen Ellsworth
In the months preceding the 2016 presidential election, and for the year following it, every night I scrolled the news app on my iPhone—mouth agape in horror; mind in disbelief.
As were many of you, I remember being aghast at what that guy had done (and was/is doing). Flabbergasted by the fact he was even in the White House to begin with. Dismayed by the people I personally knew and loved who’d fallen for his campaign fueled on rage.
Glass of Pinot in one hand, phone in the other, political perseverating had become my new, evening hobby.
And it was sad, so sad.
It wasn’t that the drinking had gotten out of hand so much as it was the nightly rush of fury that had begun to burble up from deep inside me after digesting all that news.
I could feel myself falling away from things that truly mattered: spirituality, doing good for the world, being a compassionate human. I was getting lost and tangled in the quagmire of Current Events, and losing any sense of grounded-ness I might have previously had.
Yet I still just couldn’t tear my eyes away.
I barely talked to my husband during those late-night hours after the kids were asleep. Instead, I stared at my phone while I flossed, brushed my teeth, changed into my PJs, even while I did my evening yoga.
Seriously. Who does Down Dog while reading about Bob Mueller?
I even climbed into bed with my phone, muttering to myself in paranoia, certain we were headed for The End of Days.
But what had become an even bigger problem than my sense of doom was the lousy sleep I was getting every night because of all this. It was clear the news was bad for my soul, but having disrupted sleep caused me to lose any ability to deal with it.
And it became a vicious cycle. The more upsetting news I read, the more irate I became. And the more irate I became, the worse sleep I would get. And on and on.
I knew what I needed to do. But it was like I had an addiction going. An addiction to bad news.
So, steeling myself, I worked really hard to convince myself to stop reading it at night. I went back to looking at cat videos or friends’ Instagram posts as my evening wind-down treat instead (like I had done in the blissful days before 2016). My thumb didn’t stop scrolling ‘til I was good and tired.
But guess what? Still, I was getting crappy sleep.
What hadn’t occurred to me at the time was that the actual electronic-ness of the device I’d been gazing at was, in and of itself, actually the root of my problem.
Screen time before bed had caused my biological clock to go bonkers.
“The blue light emitted by screens on cell phones, computers, tablets, and televisions restrain the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle or circadian rhythm,” say the experts at The National Sleep Foundation. “Reducing melatonin makes it harder to fall and stay asleep.”
Furthermore, poor sleep can make you really sick.
According to The National Institute of General Medical Sciences, “Biological clocks that run fast or slow can result in disrupted or abnormal circadian rhythms. Irregular rhythms have been linked to various chronic health conditions, such as sleep disorders, obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder.”
You can’t un-know all that once you hear it, so right away I stopped looking at my phone after 9 p.m. And, after just one night, it made an enormous difference in my quality of sleep. Then I stopped taking my phone into my bedroom altogether, and after a few days noticed my sleep had improved dramatically with that one small lifestyle change.
All in, it’s been about a year I’ve stayed committed to my new screen-free evening policy. But because the last few weeks have been really busy for me, and I’m doing a ton more copywriting work this year than I had done in 2018 (which is AWESOME and I’m incredibly grateful for all of my clients!), I’m not having as much me-time as I enjoyed a few months ago. Which makes me want to treat myself with wine and sugar and social media when I finally get to focus on me at night.
So my phone habit has resurfaced lately. Boo!
Last night I fell off the wagon in a big way. I was feeling overworked and crampy, too, so after the kids were asleep I snuggled up on the couch with a blanket and my phone and splurged, reading article after article. Watching recaps of Saturday Night Live. Scrolling the Facebook for way too long.
But I forced myself to stop, eventually. Left my phone on the charger in the kitchen. Did a little Mueller-free yoga. Read my book (made of real paper). Turned out the lights and let my eyes close.
And guess what I saw inside my brain?
Strobe lights. Wild flashes of white light—like the kind they use at night clubs. And this shit would not stop.
My body wanted to fall asleep, but every time I would doze off, a loud, bright, busy repetitive series of flashes would stun me awake.
If all that screen time could affect me, a grown adult, so profoundly, I got to wondering how it affects children who watch screens before bed…
In a study conducted by The National Institutes of Health on the development of juvenile brains, kids who spent two hours or more on a device anytime throughout the day “got lower scores on thinking and language tests.”
So THIS is why they’ve created limits on how much TV and computer time kids should have!
Another study by the NCBI that looked at the relationship between kids and screens found that, “Using any device at bedtime was associated with a statically [sic] significant increased use of multiple forms of technology at bedtime and use in the middle of the night, reducing sleep quantity and quality.”
Yeah? So? “A statistically significant association was found between bedtime technology use and elevated body mass index.”
So, whattaya say we work together to avoid shunting juvenile brain development, causing sleep problems and planting the seed of obesity in our kids?
And maybe it’d do us a world of good to nix our own sleep disruptions that we cause for our own selves through screen overexposure.
Here’s a shortlist of habit busters you can try to bring you and your fam better sleep and better health:
Finally, don’t forget to track how you spend this time that you’re not staring at a device. You’ll be amazed at how much you’re getting done and at how much better you feel!
I'm Janeen; writer, mother, wife, and full-time, radical Reductionist. I share stupid-easy tips on how to save money while reducing your impact on the environment, & I'm committed to helping others live a life of simple sustainability.
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